Monday, July 8, 2013

NPA rebels were killed in gun battle, says military

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 8): NPA rebels were killed in gun battle, says military
The spokesman of the military’s Southern Luzon Command on Sunday denied accusations by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that its New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were unarmed when they were killed in Thursday’s encounter with Army soldiers in the hinterlands of Juban in Sorsogon.

“That’s their rehashed propaganda line. On the contrary, they were all heavily armed and engaged our soldiers in a half-hour exchange of gunfire before they were killed,” said Lt. Col. Neil Anthony Estrella in an interview at Solcom headquarters here.

Estrella said the rebels, including National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) Bicol spokesman Greg Bañares, “were killed in a legitimate encounter.”

“Those who are saying the slain communist terrorists were mercilessly massacred are lying. They refuse to admit the NPA rebels are losing strength,” he said.

On Saturday, the CPP insisted in a statement the slain rebels were unarmed even as it appealed to human rights groups, church groups, independent lawyer groups and the United Nations to conduct an investigation.

Eight rebels were killed in the clash, including Frankie Joe Soriano, better known by his pseudonym Ka Greg Bañares.

Also killed in the firefight were Pehing Hipa, alias Ka Miloy; Ted Palacio, alias Ka Gary; David Llunar, alias Ka Rey; Romero Añonuevo, alias Ka Nene; Ailyn Calma, alias Kevin; and William Villanueva Jr., alias Ka Jay.

“Being unarmed and unable to put up any form of resistance, Ka Greg, Ka Nel and Ka Gary should have been arrested and detained as prisoners of war in accordance with provisions of the Geneva Conventions governing protagonists rendered hors de combat. They were, instead, mercilessly massacred by the soldiers of the 31st Infantry Battalion,” the CPP said.

The CPP demanded that the soldiers and officers involved in the clash be held liable for violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and pertinent protocols of the Geneva Conventions.

But, citing official military reports from Bicol, Estrella said the soldiers recovered five M16 rifles, two M203 grenade rifles, three laptops and improvised explosive devices from the slain rebels.

He said the soldiers were tipped off by concerned residents on the presence of the armed rebels in the area.

The data from the seized laptops revealed “highly classified and sensitive information” on the operations of NPA rebels in Bicol, particularly in Sorsogon, he added.

“Ka Greg’s group was not only a propaganda and information unit, it was also involved in several tactical operations against police and military forces,” said Estrella.

He said the military had identified Bañares on Friday through photos provided by rebel returnees and confirmation by his former comrades.

The CPP vowed to avenge the deaths of their comrades. It ordered all units of the NPA, particularly in Bicol, to carry out more tactical offensives against the state security forces.

Estrella said the military was ready for any retaliation by the communist guerrillas.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, public affairs office chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the military was not rejoicing at the deaths of the eight ranking NPA leaders.

In fact, he said, the military leadership was “saddened” upon learning that most of the slain insurgents had been recruited to the communist movement when they were just students.

“We’re not celebrating. We’re just doing our duty to protect the citizenry,” Zagala told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Meanwhile, another NPA rebel was killed on Saturday morning, according to Lt. Col. Medel Aguilar, acting spokesman of the 9th Infantry Division. Penky Quentas Boticario was identified through an ID found in his belongings after the encounter.

Palace assures no escalation of hostilities between military, BIFM

From the Sun Star (Jul 8): Palace assures no escalation of hostilities between military, BIFM

MALACAÑANG assured Monday that the renewed skirmishes between the government troops and the breakaway Muslim rebels in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces would not escalate to other places.

Quoting the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that the security mechanisms of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have already been working to contain the hostilities that erupted between the Army troops and the over 100 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM).

"OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) is confident that the escalation of violence can be prevented by the CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities) and the AHJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group) and other security mechanisms," she said in a text message.

The CCCH is comprised of members from the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF, as well as neutral parties. Established in 2003, it has been tasked to monitor the implementation of the GPH-MILF Ceasefire Agreement and resolve complaints over ceasefire violations so that small skirmishes do not intensify.

On the other hand, the AHJAG is a joint effort of both parties, seeking to interdict and isolate lawless elements that take refuge in or near MILF communities.

The BIFM, founded by former MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato, broke away from the MILF in 2010 after the latter dropped the call for an independent Islamic state. The government considers BIFM as a lawless element and not another rebel group.

Amid the BIFM attacks, Valte said the military will keep the peace during Ramadan and will act accordingly should harassment continue to persist.

A least five soldiers and scores of insurgents were killed in the clashes over the weekend.

Fighting between Kato’s group, soldiers still rages

From the Manila Standard Today (Jul 9): Fighting between Kato’s group, soldiers still rages

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters said on Monday that clashes between their forces and government troops continue to rage on in various areas in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

Samsudin, a sub-commander of BIFF,  said that clashes continue in Brgy. Gatu Masasapano in Shariff Aguak.

He added that the fighting between BIFF forces and troops from the 6th Infantry Battalion at Shariff Aguak  followed earlier clashes in Brgy.  Bakat, Datu Piang and Bgry. Shariff Saydona, in Cotabato on Saturday and Sunday.

But the military denied the report, saying that they stopped their operation on Monday in deference to Ramadan, a Muslim holiday which starts today.

“We [stopped] the operations because Ramadan is already [about to start]. The only clearance given to us by the joint panel is three days to conduct law enforcement operations. So we have to abide by that so as not to derail the peace process,” Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said.

Gapuz added that it was the BIFF rebels who launched an attack in an army post in Bgy. Bakat, but later withdrew with six casualties.

Samsudin, however, said that while the observance of Ramadan is “highly important” among Muslims, they had no other recourse but to defend themselves if the military attacks them.

He claimed that government troops attacked the hideout of Ameril Umbra Kato, the BIFF founder and leader, in Brgy. Gatu Masasapano.

“Fighting is ongoing after army soldiers attacked Kato’s hideout but his men retaliated,” Samsudin said.

He claimed that the army was trying to flush out Kato and his men from their hideout.

Kato, who used to be a ranking member of the MILF before his defection, is facing more than 80 criminal charges filed by the government before different courts in Mindanao.

In 2011, the MILF disassociated itself from Kato’s group and declared him a “bougat” or one who defies or does not obey an order and engages in lawless actions.

Kato currently carries a P10 million bounty on his head.

Gapuz said the military’s attacks against the BIFF were approved by the Adhoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) and the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
He added that they “will not relax” on security measures as the lawless Moro rebels are very much capable of launching attacks.

Gapuz said the number of fatalities on the government side rose to 6, an officer and five enlisted personnel, and two wounded in action.

“On the enemy side, the estimate is about 80. Pero ang sabi nila ang nakita lang dun is 18. Hindi naman pwedeng kunin yun because that is against their customs and tradition,” he said.

He admitted though that the figure is based on the information coming from civilians who allegedly saw the fatalities.

Meanwhile, Malacañang said that it remains confident that the clashes will not spill over on the ongoing peace talks.

“The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process is confident that the escalation of violence can be prevented by the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and other security mechanisms,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

The clashes happened on the eve of the resumption of formal peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Government chief negotiator Miriam Ferrer earlier assured the public that  operations against Kato were cleared with the CCCH.

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

“We do not want that this would embroil the government and the MILF,” she added.

The military said Kato is “posturing” to disrupt the peace talks, which have reached critical stage as both panels finalize the three remaining annexes for the peace accord.

This week’s formal talks will run until Thursday, as both panels aim to resolve the thorny issue of wealth-sharing annex.

Ferrer said both panels will strive to “find compromises” during the four-day formal negotiations in Kuala Lumpur which began  Monday.

She said the government draft on wealth-sharing provides for a better fiscal arrangement than what is currently in place in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Murad and PNoy exchange letters on delays in peace talks

From MindaNews (Jul 8): Murad and PNoy exchange letters on delays in peace talks

Before the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels resumed talks in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, July 8, their leaders had discussed the delays in the peace process and tried to resolve them through letters.

MILF peace panel chair Mohager Iqbal revealed in his opening statement at the State Room of the Palace of the Golden Horses hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Monday morning that MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim “decided to write” President Aquino a letter to reiterate the “unwavering commitment of the MILF to resolve the conflict peacefully” and “politely informed him (President) of the growing frustration of the people and some members of the MILF as a result of the delay of the talks.”

Iqbal said Murad explained to the President that the delay is perceived to be not coming from the side of the MILF but from the government.

He did not say what Murad’s recommendations were but said “the President responded positively to the letter.”

“I am so sorry I cannot disclose the content of the letter because I don’t have the mandate to do so. Our chairman did not allow that copies be made except one that is intended for the Facilitator for the record of the Malaysian Secretariat,” he said.

Iqbal did not say when Murad wrote the President and to whom it was coursed.

MindaNews asked through mobile phone on Monday evening if Murad’s letter was sent after the shuttling of the Malaysian facilitator in early June and before the forum in Oslo, Norway on June 18 and 19. Iqbal said “yes.”

President Aquino has met and spoken with Murad three times: on August 4, 2011 in Japan, where they both agreed to fast-track the peace process, sign an agreement within the first half of the Aquino administration and implement in the second half; on October 12, 2012 in Malacanan at the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB); and on February 11, 2013 at the launching of the government’s socio-economic initiative, “Sajahatra Bangsamoro.”

First time

It is the first time letters were reported to have been exchanged between Murad and the President.

In his opening statement Monday, Iqbal noted that the last time the panels met in Kuala Lumpur on April 8 to 11, they agreed to “exchange notes” and to meet again after the May 13 Philippine elections.

Notes on how to resolve the contentious  issues on the remaining three annexes were exchanged through the Malaysian facilitator, Dato’ Tengku Abd’ Ghafar bin Mohamed, who shuttled between Manila and Maguindanao on June 6 to 8, but no date was set for the resumption of  the talks as the panels had yet to break an impasse on the wealth-sharing annex.

News that a date had been set for the resumption of the talks came out only after the Mediators’ Forum in Oslo, Norway on June 18 and 19, which was attended by GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Iqbal,  Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles and the Malaysian Facilitator, Tengku.

An article in the OPAPP website datelined Norway on June 21 and titled “GPH, MILF to resume formal talks in July,” quoted Ferrer as saying that “the panel chairs have already agreed on a date early next month to further discuss the annexes on wealth sharing, power sharing and normalization.”

The report also said Ferrer “handed over to her counterpart the government’s full proposals on the wealth sharing annex for the MILF to study and consider.”

The exchange of letters between Murad and the President apparently fast-tracked the process, at least on setting the date for the next round of talks.

The first date set for the resumption of the talks was July 3 to 5 but this was later reset to July 8 to 11.

“Most critical stage”
Iqbal also narrated in his opening statement how several foreign participants in the Oslo forum described the GPH-MILF peace negotiation as a “success story” but they told them the process is still ongoing and that they are “still treading the most critical stage” of their peace journey and that there are “many spoilers who are waiting in ambush.”

Iqbal has been the MILF’s chief negotiator for the last ten years. He took over from Murad, then Vice Chair for Military Affairs and concurrent peace panel chair until MILF chair Salamat Hashim succumbed to an illness on July 13, 2003. Hashim’s death would be made public 23 days later, along with the announcement that Murad had been elected as his successor and Iqbal, information chief, would take over as peace panel chair.

“As a negotiator for more than ten years, I have learned a lot of hard lessons… For this reason, I know that the road ahead of the current peace talks is still full of humps and bumps. But this is no reason to cause the failure of these talks. Sincere and committed partners in peace process will always find creative formula to get through any differences,” he said.

Iqbal then reminded everyone that “we are solving the Moro Problem or Question, not the Philippine Problem.”

“Remember that a historic injustice has been committed against the Bangsamoro, which must be corrected once and for all in order to put to rest all future legitimate struggles against the Manila government. Therefore, any solution requires a major shake-up of the status quo. A mere resort to legal remedies not founded on negotiated political settlement will not hold water,” he said.

Both parties had agreed in the April 2012 Decision Points and carried over into the FAB, that “the status quo is unacceptable.”

“Above ARMM, below independence”
“Moreover, it is not symmetry or what is common to all peoples of the Philippines is the problem; rather, it is what distinguishes the Bangsamoro from the rest of the inhabitants that we must address, and which distinctiveness we have already discovered the formula: ‘asymmetrical relationship.’ This means, the parties must find a political solution that is above the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and below independence. If we faithfully subscribe to this formulation, the parties can move the process very fast. There would be no back-and-forth movements like what happened for the last more four months,” Iqbal said.

He explained that they rejected the ARMM because “it is not autonomous but an administrative region like the rest of the regions in the Philippines.”

“To fast-track the process, therefore, the government must not offer anything already granted to the ARMM especially by R.A. 9054 or by other legislations. For, these are givens that need no longer be negotiated on. On the other hand, the MILF must not demand anything reserved for an independent state. In order to aid them, they can learn from other models on state-substate asymmetrical relationship that are available around us,” said Iqbal.

Iqbal said he hopes they can sign “hopefully the annex on wealth-sharing” in this round of talks.

He acknowledged that too much pressure is building against us, especially on government.

Last week, the CSO (Civil Society Organization) Summit on the Bangsamoro Peace Talks held in Davao City called on both panels to “sign the peace agreement now” because “time is running out.”

Bangsamoro women who gathered at the plaza in Cotabato City at around the same time the panels opened their talks in Kuala Lumpur, also made a similar call.

MindaNews asked for a copy of Ferrer’s opening statement but no copy has been sent as of 9:30 p.m. The speech has not also been uploaded in the OPAPP website.

Samar NPA launches new attack

From the Manila Times (Jul 8): Samar NPA launches new attack

AMID claims by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that the New People’s Army (NPA) is losing the war, the communist rebels continues to engage the military as it launched another attack against government security forces in Samar province.

Capt. Amado Gutierrez, spokesman, 8th Infantry Division, disclosed on Monday that the latest encounter took place in Barangay Diit in the town of Matuginao that left one soldier wounded and allegedly an undetermined number on the rebels’ side.

He said the soldier-members of the “Bayanihan” Team of the 43rd Infantry Battalion were conducting routine community and security patrol in the area when they were engaged by some 15 heavily armed rebels.

Wounded was Private First Class Eduardo Carcillar.

Gutierrez said that based on information provided by the residents, the withdrawing rebels carried their wounded comrades as they retreated.

Prior to the encounter, Gu-tierrez added, an abandoned NPA camp was also discovered by operating troops of the 34 Infantry Battalion in the boundary of the hinterlands villages of Pio del Pilar and Can-Maria in Lapinig town.

He said the discovered NPA camp has a makeshift hall and tents and can accommodate 30 people.

Troops assessed that the NPA camp was abandoned few days ago.

Last week, the rebels also engaged government forces in a 35-minute firefight in Barangay Upper Calmayon, Juban, Sorso-gon that resulted in the death of eight rebels.
On Sunday, the NPAs retaliated by firing at a group of students participating in a fun run in Gubat, Sorsogon that left one female student injured.

Earlier, NPA rebels in Northern Samar and Zamboanga del Sur also engaged government forces in separate encounters that left one soldier dead and 11 others injured.

But despite the series of attacks initiated by the NPAs, the AFP said that it is still winning the war under the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan, the government’s new anti-insurgency strategy.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief, Public Affairs Office, said that AFP still has the upper hand against the NPA with a 40-percent increase in military-initiated engagements against the armed rebels from fourth quarter of 2012 to first quarter of 2013.

Since January up to March this year, he added, the AFP recorded 96 focus-military operations against the NPA who only conducted 46.

Zagala claimed that through IPSP, more and more NPAs were returning to the government fold.

 The AFP has declared 25 provinces as NPA-free.

Officer in ‘Morong 43’ case belittles Leftist allegations

From Malaya (Jul 9): Officer in ‘Morong 43’ case belittles Leftist allegations

Malaya Business News Online - Philippine Business News | Online News Philippines

Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad

ARMY chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes yesterday confirmed the designation of a senior military officer linked to the controversial arrest of the “Morong 43” as new commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division based in Capiz.

Coballes vouched for the integrity of Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, outgoing AFP deputy chief of staff for operations, who has been charged with torture in connection with the arrest of the “Morong 43” at a farmhouse in Morong, Rizal in February 2010.

Baladad, then a colonel, was commander of the 202nd Brigade that arrested the Morong 43.

The military has said the Morong 43 are members of the New People’s Army. The group members said they are health workers.

“General Baladad won’t be given a key position if he is not upright,” said Coballes of Baladad, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1982, who is expected to assume his new post on Friday.

Coballes said the designation of Baladad as 3rd ID commander is effective June 20, the day Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta retired from service.

The Army division is currently headed by 3rd ID deputy commander Brig. Gen. Jonas Sumagaysay in concurrent and acting capacity.

Information about Baladad’s new designation was leaked last week. The human rights group Karapatan said Baladad’s promotion is an “exemplary display of impunity” under the Aquino government.

Baladad, asked to comment on the criticisms from the Left, said: “As of now, the case is still pending. Where is the presumption of innocence there?”

Baladad said the Court of Appeals has already sustained the arrest of the 43 who, he said, are NPA rebels. “In effect, it was not illegal arrest,” he said.

Baladad said the Left is opposing his designation because they want to prevent an “effective officer” from getting promoted.

“To me, if they see a commander that’s effective, they don’t want that (officer) to go up…They will harass you so you won’t be too aggressive to achieve the mission,” he said.

Baladad said the case would not prevent him from doing his job.

“If a commander will show that he is losing his aggressiveness, then the NPA will achieve what they want to happen - for the commanders to lose their aggressiveness,” he said.

Baladad is facing torture charges filed by some of the 43 arrested in Morong. Five of them have confessed membership in the NPA.

Government prosecutors withdrew the charges filed against the 43 after President Aquino said evidence against them were inadmissible in court.

AFP quizzes rights abuses’ veracity

From the Daily Tribune (Jul 9): AFP quizzes rights abuses’ veracity

As the military leadership continued to question the veracity of a scathing report on human rights in the country, the Armed Forces office yesterday challenged Karapatan to provide evidence if it indeed documented hundreds of human rights abuses in the first half of the Aquino administration.

“Karapatan must prove the veracity of (its) claims. (Its) records are not accurate, and these purported human rights violations are only allegations which have not been filed to the proper authority,” Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, AFP-Public Affairs Office chief, stressed.

“They should engage other agencies concerned particularly the AFP to once and for all verify and reconcile their records with ours, and with the CHR (Commission on Human Rights),” he added.

According to Karapatan, from July 2010, or the start of the Aquino administration, to April 30, 2013, it has documented 142 victims of extra-judicial killing, 164 cases of frustrated killing, 16 victims of enforced disappearance, 293 persons arrested and detained, 16 children with ages ranging from four to 15 killed during encounters that mainly involved paramilitary groups under the command of AFP units.

Zagala said if Karapatan is really advocating human rights, it should coordinate with the AFP-Human Rights Office (HRO) and the CHR to resolve the issues.

“We urge Karapatan to coordinate with the AFP-HRO or the CHR. If they are really advocating human rights, they should work with us in finding out remedies, the courses of action to solve the issues,” he added.

“As far as the AFP is concerned, our efforts in upholding International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights and Rule of Law in all our security operations have been effective,” Zagala stressed.

Karapatan also reiterated its call for the dismantling of all paramilitary groups in the country and the revocation of Executive Order (EO) 546.

According to Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, EO 546 spurred the use of paramilitary groups and private armies by political warlords such as the Ampatuans.

Former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo’s EO 546 allowed local officials to employ members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units (Cafgu) and Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVO) to purportedly address insurgency in the country.

The group said Aquino, instead of revoking the order, expanded and strengthened the EO by creating the Special Cafgu Auxiliary Action (SCAA) to protect operations of mining firms.

Palabay also cited the appointment of Brig. Gen. Aurelio Baladad as commanding general of 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army as an “exemplary display of impunity under the Aquino government.”

Baladad is among the military and police officers currently facing civil and criminal charges of torture and illegal detention of 43 health workers known as the Morong 43.
The 43 health workers were illegally arrested in February 2010. They were handcuffed and blindfolded for two days.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes, however, defended the appointment of Baladad, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1982, which took effect June 20 upon the retirement of Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr.

“General Baladad will not be given a key position if he is not upright... there is no result yet on the case,” he said.

Coballes added that opposition to Baladad’s appointment was expected from the “enemy.”

“You don’t expect any positive statement from the enemy,” he stressed.

Army’s 7th ID and Nolcom have new commanders

From the Business Mirror (Jul 8): Army’s 7th ID and Nolcom have new commanders

 Brig. Gen. Hernando Delfin Carmelo Iriberri is the new commander of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division (7ID) based in this camp.

Iriberri replaces Maj. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., who has been promoted as chief of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines based in Camp Aquino, Tarlac.
A member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983, Iriberri is a recipient of five Distinguished Service Stars, two Gold Cross Medals, one Long Service Medal, numerous military merit and commendation medals, campaign medals, and various other citations, badges and awards both from military and civilian organizations.
Iriberri also served as senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and chief of the Unified Command Staff of the Southern Luzon Command.
The 7ID has jurisdiction over army brigades and battalions in the Ilocos and Central Luzon regions and maintains a force in Mindanao.
Catapang is eyeing enhanced collaborative efforts of the Armed Forces with stakeholders in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Cordillera regions against what he calls as “nontraditional security threats that include climate change, transnational crimes, global terrorism and maritime security.”

Lawyer asks Navy chief to release Marine colonel

From the Business Mirror (Jul 8): Lawyer asks Navy chief to release Marine colonel

A LAWYER asked the Navy leadership on Monday to immediately release from detention a retired Marine colonel who was convicted by a court martial for “disrespect of the President.”
Ana Luz Cristal, counsel for retired Marine Col. Generoso Mariano, urged Vice Adm. Jose Luis Alano, Navy flag officer in command, to release her client since the court martial had already issued determined that the sentence has been served.
“On May 16, 2013, the Navy General Court Martial rendered its verdict. Part of the dispositive portion states: “x x x x x The court martial sentenced the Accused [Mariano] to suffer the penalty of one-year imprisonment.  His preventive detention from July 15, 2011 shall be credited to his service of sentence, and which shall be deemed served. Thus, his immediate release from detention upon approval by the convening authority [is recommended],” Cristal’s letter said.
Cristal personally delivered the letter to Alano.
Contacted through his mobile phone, Mariano said he was still waiting for his release order.
“I don’t know what keeps the Navy so long to release me. I have already served the sentence more than enough and yet they’re delaying my release,” Mariano lamented.
“To date, more than one month has lapsed but our client is still in detention, despite the aforementioned order. We are constrained in the interest of justice, to seek for the immediate release of our client, as his continuous stay in the detention facility is gravely unjust and a clear violation of his constitutional rights. We do hope this request merits your prompt action and favorable consideration,” Cristal added.
Mariano was ordered restricted to camp a day before his mandatory retirement after a video of him criticizing President Aquino on several social issues was uploaded on YouTube.
Mariano was a multiawarded officer in the Marine Corps. 

Heightened US military presence seen

From the Business Mirror (Jul 8): Heightened US military presence seen

THE Philippines will continue to welcome the American military to make use of military bases and accommodate them under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to enhance the Philippines’s own military’s capabilities.
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia made the statement, saying that the proposals for use of Philippine military bases by US forces have been under discussion during the last two years.
“You know we have the bilateral strategic dialogue every year. For the last two years that I’ve been in Washington, we’ve had three dialogues so far,” Cuisia said on Monday.
He added that a fourth dialogue has been scheduled and part of the discussions is “how can we strengthen the alliance between the US and the Philippines.”
Asked what bases are the Americans allowed access to, Cuisia said: “I cannot disclose that.”
However, he said the arrangement would be beneficial to the country, as it would enhance the Philippine military’s capabilities.
“It will definitely contribute to a better training of our armed forces, our Navy, our Air Force and so on. We also hope to be able to get more assistance from the US in terms of military security assistance.”
“So there’s going to be more training, more exercises and so on.”
He added that the arrangement would still fall under the VFA.
“Oh yes, [it will be] within the VFA, that’s the underlying agreement. We won’t go beyond that and we want to assure you that whatever agreement is entered into is going to be in line with the Constitution of the Philippines.”
Cuisia did not give a timeline as to when the new arrangement would take effect.
“There’s no timeline because again, we have to make sure that the agreement is acceptable to both parties and sometimes, this things take time.”
Asked if it’s within the year, he said: “We hope but we cannot say.”
Last week Defense Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta said the US military is again welcome to use Subic Bay in Zambales and Clark Field in Pampanga as long as prior approval is granted by the government.
Azcueta made the statement following a meeting with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint chiefs of staff, who traveled to the country as part of a regional trip to generate support for the US military pivot toward Asia.
The United States used to maintain bases in Subic and Clark for decades after World War II, but the Senate rejected another RP-US Military Bases Agreement in the early 1990s, and the facilities were returned to the Philippines.
The announcement of an expanded military relationship last week came after months of talks between Washington and Manila, and appears to be another step forward in the US plan to bolster its forces in the Asia-Pacific region.
Cuisia is in the Philippines for two weeks to accompany the 10 delegates to the Filipino-American Youth Leadership Program, who were selected based on their scholastic achievements, leadership skills, advocacy and commitment to pay back the Filipino community in the US and in the Philippines.

CPP/NPA: Eight soldiers killed in Sorsogon in NPA active defense

From the CPP Website (Jul 8): Eight soldiers killed in Sorsogon in NPA active defense

At least eight soldiers belonging to the 31st Infantry Battalion were killed when a platoon of the Celso Minguez Command succeeded in carrying-out active defense maneuvers in Sitio Madagusong, Brgy. Macawayan, Irosin, Sorsogon in the early morning hours last July 6, 2013.

The Red fighters successfully countered the attempt of the fascist troops of the 31st IB to encircle and overpower them. They were able to inflict heavy casualties against the AFP. A Sgt. Canuel of the 31st IB and seven other soldiers were killed in action when the NPA detonated explosives and fired upon the attacking soldiers. The spokesperson of the 903rd Infantry Brigade, Col. Joselito Caquilala, concealed the actual number of soldiers who were killed in the encounter.

An NPA Red figher, Pinky Boticario (Ka Gerald), from the same barrio, was martyred in the course of the firefight. The NPA-CMC pays its highest tribute to its fallen Red fighter.

Later that afternoon, a team of NPA Red fighters detonated explosives against the vehicle of the 508th PNP Public Safety Management Battalion. The PNP-PSMB is a combat unit of the PNP being used in counter-guerrilla operations under Oplan Bayanihan. The demolition operation was carried out along the Maharlica Hi-Way in Barangay Ponong, Casiguran. Several policemen were wounded in the attack. The NPA team was able to safely retreat from the area.

Govt peace panel chair: Talks with MILF resume in a 'congenial' tone

From GMA News (Jul 8): Govt peace panel chair: Talks with MILF resume in a 'congenial' tone

The Philippine government's chief peace negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said Monday she is positive talks with the secessionist group will "achieve something" despite pending contentious issues.

Peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said both parties resumed peace talks in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in a "congenial" tone as they try to agree on the wealth-sharing and power-sharing arrangements for the proposed Bangsamoro political entity. 

"We're focusing on the options here. We had a very congenial discussion on these issues. These issues are still on the table," Coronel-Ferrer said in an interview aired over ANC.

She added that the 38th round of peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF will last until Thursday.

The peace talks resumed months after the MILF had accused the government of delaying the signing of the peace agreement after allegedly reneging on its commitment to meet with MILF negotiators immediately after the May 10 elections and for proposing changes in the wealth-sharing agreement.

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar earlier said that his group is likely to reject the government's proposed changes in the wealth-sharing annex.

Last October, the government and the MILF signed a landmark framework agreement that would pave the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro territory to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

How much did NPA earn in Sorsogon during 2013 polls? Army official has estimate

From InterAksyon (Jul 9): How much did NPA earn in Sorsogon during 2013 polls? Army official has estimate

How much did the communist New People’s Army rebels earn “in extortion money” from local candidates in Sorsogon province alone during the May 13 synchronized elections?

Army Col. Joselito Kakilala, commanding officer of the Army's 903rd Infantry Brigade based in Castilla, Sorsogon, said that despite the military's plea for candidates and politicians not to give in to the rebels' demand for permit-to-campaign fees, more of them paid up -- in his estimate between P7 million and P8 million.

“The amount generated by the government’s enemy from the politicians has been used by the NPA for acquiring weapons and transport fuel against government forces,” Kakilala said.

He made the revelation during a press conference and presentation of high-powered firearms and personal belongings recovered from eight slain rebels during an early July 4 morning encounter in Upper Calmayon, Juban town in Sorsogon province.

The presentation was held Monday at Camp Gen. Simeon Ola, headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Bicol Regional Office here.

“The rebels in Sorsogon collected more or less P7-P8 million extortion money in the form of permits to campaign or win in the May elections,” he said without reservation.
The Maoist armed rebel group has been waging war against government forces for 44 years and is the longest surviving communist insurgents in Southeast Asia. It has claimed thousands of lives of government forces and suspected assets of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the early ‘80s to ‘90s, he said.

Government offensive attacks

Kakilala said government security forces will be launching offensive attacks against the communist insurgents, who have been victimizing even the poorest residents in Sorsogon province in the form of so-called mandatory revolutionary taxation, which he said is actually extortion.

“It may be hard and tedious but we will find them in every corner of Sorsogon. So, we’re calling on all our politicians and construction firms to stop giving permit-to-campaign fees and money to our enemy so that the fourth generation of rebels will be crippled,” Kakilala stressed.

As to the eight slain rebels during the military encounter, he said government forces are unhappy seeing wayward Filipinos die.

He said that he even sympathizes with their families.

Army Col. Raul Farnacio, commanding officer of the Army’s 901st Infantry Brigade based in Villahermosa, Daraga that is at the boundary of Sorsogon and Albay provinces, said their hearts bleed seeing fellow Filipinos die in military encounters.

“We even extended our sympathies to the families of the slain members of the communist guerrilla movement who had gone through a different wayward path,” Farnacio said.

Who was Ka Greg Bañares?

Among those killed were Ka Greg Bañares, whose real name is Frankie Joe Soriano, who served as NDF spokesman and concurrent secretary general of Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA in Bicol, and his wife Ka Nel, whose real name was Christine Puche.

Soriano and Puche’s bodies were brought to Legazpi City, where their relatives and friends could pay their last respects. Soriano, 40, was a graduate of political science. He was born in Barangay San Isidro, Libmanan town in Camarines Sur and raised by parents who are both public school teachers.

He was the eldest among three siblings, one of whom is also a public school teacher like his parents.

In 2008, Soriano disappeared and was never heard of by his family, relatives, and friends.

Puche was reportedly a graduate of Mass Communications from the University of the Philippines.

A relative, who requested anonymity, said Soriano met Puche sometime in 2000 when he was actively involved in protest rallies against former President Joseph Estrada.

The two got married later and had two children who were left under the care of Puche's parents in Legazpi City.

On Soriano’s death, his friends and relatives were surprised to know that the slain NDF spokesman who disappeared in the past few years was indeed Greg Bañares.

The real identity of Ka Greg was revealed to the public only after the CPP-NPA-National Democratic Front published his real name in the movement’s website following his death.

The Celso Minguez Command of the NPA operating in Sorsogon admitted in a statement in its official blog that Ka Greg Bañares was among the eight casualties in the 35-minute firefight between Army’s 31st Infantry Battalion and an NPA unit in Barangay Upper Calmayon, Juban, Sorsogon.

Army Captain Marjorie Paimela Panesa, acting public information officer of the Army’s 9th ID, said personnel from 31st IB verified that among the fallen armed combatants were really Soriano alias Ka Samuel Guerero/Ka Greg Bañares.

Panesa said Soriano’s body was claimed by a family member who confirmed that he was from San Roque, Nabua, Camarines Sur, and a graduate of Bachelor of Arts major in Political Science.

His wake is currently being held in the house of his relatives in Barangay Bonot, Legazpi City.

Panesa said most of casualties from the rebel side were ranking officials of the NPA in Sorsogon. They included Ka Miloy alias Ka Dado, a political instructor of the provincial guerilla unit; Arnel Estiller alias ka Ariston, leader of the small NPA unit encountered in Juban; a certain Alicia alias Ka Ja/Jackelyn/Manay, of the regional guerilla unit (RGU); and Abby, RGU staff and editor of Dagundong ng Bikol, the regular video broadcast of the CPP and NPA in the Bicol Region aired via video compact discs (CDs) distributed here.

Other casualties identified by the Celso Minguez Command in its blog were Ka Miloy (Pehing Hipa), Ka Gary (Ted Palacio), Ka Rey (David Llunar), Ka Nene (Romero Añonuevo), Ka Jay (William Villanueva, Jr), and Ka Kevin (Ailyn Calma), calling them “martyrs.”

Soriano, according to Kakilala, was with 50 armed combatants gathered together after extorting money from the people whom, he said, “were fed up by the oppressive collection.”

"We receive complaints from the civilian residents about these extortion activities carried out by heavily armed members of the NPA. It is our constitutional mandate to protect the people from any armed threats," he said.

Kakilala, an awardee of the prestigious Presidential Lingkod Bayan and Metrobank Foundation's The Outstanding Philippine Soldiers (TOPS), urged the rebels to return the fold of law so they will be able to live with their families peacefully.

“We’re not rejoicing over the death of our fellow ‘kababayans’ but we have a mandate to perform -- to protect the people from lawless elements of the society. We’re urging them (NPA rebels) to abandon their armed struggle and instead join us in pursuit of peace, progress, and development of our country," Kakilala said.

Army integrates Cordillera rebels

From the Manila Standard Today (Jul 8): Army integrates Cordillera rebels

Lt. General Noel Coballes, army chief, welcomed 168 members of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army during the recent integration rites held at  here at the headquarters of the Army’s 5th Infantry Division.

“Your entry to the military is beyond having a job, it is a commitment for your honorable service to the Filipino nation,” he said while acknowledging the surrender of 138 firearms. “Lasting peace and progress for all Filipinos will not be achieved by armed struggle and hatchet.”

The integers came from the so-called “Economic Force” now Cordillera Forum for Peace and Development Inc. before deciding to join the Candidate Soldier Course Class 346-13 and undergo jungle warfare and mountain operation training.

President Benigno Aquino III on July 19, 2011 signed Executive Order 49 to implement the Closure Agreement on the rebel group’s disarmament and transformation to a socio-economic development arm.

The integration is buttressed by the 2002 memorandum of agreement under Administrative Order 18 on employment and livelihood support to rebel returnees as part of the peace process.

Penalties for US ship opposed

From the Manila Standard Today (Jul 8): Penalties for US ship opposed

Malacanang has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss a petition by Catholic bishops and various groups seeking penalties for damages caused by a US navy ship at Tubbataha Reef and to stop naval exercises in the country “in absence of clear guidelines on environmental protection,” government lawyers said on Sunday.

Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza said the government opposed the writ of kalikasan or environment protection order on Tubbataha Reef because the grounding last January of USS Guardian at the reefs, a marine protected area, was a “fait accompli, an irreversible situation.”

`”The USS Guardian has the right of innocent passage and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should not be raised as an issue,” Jardeleza said.

The VFA is a bilateral agreement between the the Philippines and the United States. It governs the war games and naval exercises involving Filipino and American military.

The USS Guardian, a mine sweeper, destroyed 2,346 square meters of diverse coral ecosystems in the natural marine park in the Sulu Sea. The United Nations has declared the reefs a World Heritage site.

Jardeleza said the government asked the Court to dismiss the petition of the bishops, environmentalists and activist groups because “they do not represent the inhabitants prejudiced by the environmental damage, which subject of the petition for Writ of Kalikasan.”

He said the Supreme Court cannot intervene in claims for damages against the US government because “claims processing under the VFA resides exclusively with the executive department.”

In their petition to the Supreme Court, the bishops named as defendants President Aquino, several members of his Cabinet, senior military officials and the officers and crew of the USS Guardians.

They asked the Court to proceed with the case against US Seventh Fleet Commander Scott Swift and the Guardian Commanding Officer Mark Rice even without their answer, which was sought through the US Embassy in Manila.

In an investigation report released by the Americans last May 22, the US Navy admitted its fault and said the incident was caused by human error and “failure of leadership of the USS Guardian Command.”

28 NPAs surrender en masse in Siaton

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jul 8): 28 NPAs surrender en masse in Siaton

Twenty-eight Yunit Militia and Party Branch members of the Komiteng Rehiyonal Sentral Bisayas surrendered en masse Friday to the 79th Infantry Battalion in Siaton, Negros Oriental.

This was followed by the dismantling of the KRSB barangay revolutionary structure in Brgy. Mantiquil, Siaton, Lt. Col. Marion Sison, 7th IB commander, said.

Of the 28 rebel returnees, nine are members of the Sangay sa Partido sa Localidad, led by Rosalie Nama alias Pops, and 19 are members of Yunit Militia of Lubos na Asosasyong Masa, Solid Mass Association, under Diosdado Nama, “alias Dondi,” Sison, in his report to Brig. Gen. Jonas Sumagaysay, 3rd Infantry Division general-officer-in-charge, said.

Sison added that the surrender of 28 personalities utilized for chores as underground informants, to instant and sometimes, untrained fill-up fighters for the NPA, was brought about by the information delivered by the Bayanihan Troops from issues previously exploited by the rebel group.

The 28 returnees decided to turn their backs on the YM after realizing that they have been fed with lies by the NPA leadership, he also said.

Sumagaysay said the snowballing of surrenders can also be attributed to social pressure generated by the civil society organizations, the local officials and other stakeholders, who have been persistent in calling for peace, coupled with sustained combat operations in the region.

11,000 in hinterlands avail of gov’t services

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jul 8): 11,000 in hinterlands avail of gov’t services

About 11,000 residents of three hinterland barangays of Escalante, Toboso and Calatrava, Negros Occidental, have availed of government services facilitated by the Provincial Peace and Integration Development Unit of Negros Occidental.

This was through the “Marching for Peace, Serving the Countryside’ activities that started since last week, Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said yesterday.

The 3rd leg of the activity, spearheaded by the Pro-PIDU of Negros Occidental, was held Saturday in Brgy. Malatas, Calatrava, led by local government, military and police officials, various government agencies and civil society groups.

They rendered medical and dental consultations, free massage and haircuts, veterinary aid, and other services in Brgy. Malatas, Calatrava, Aying said.

Similar activities were also held earlier in Brgy. Bandila, Toboso and Brgy. Paitan, Escalante City, that were attended by Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. and other provincial government officials.

The concerns raised by residents to Marañon included the need for a farm-to-market road, water and irrigation system, electrification and school buildings, as well as livelihood projects to augment their income.

In Brgy. Paitan, Escalante City, Marañon assured residents and school officials that a burned school will be repaired and a water system will be constructed in the place.

Aside from extending humanitarian assistance to the residents of conflict-affected communities, the Philippine Army and National Police also held a “foot march” from Brgy. Bato in Sagay City to Brgy. Paitan in Escalante, Brgy. Bandila in Toboso to Brgy. Malatas in Calatrava on Saturday.

Similar activities will be held this week in two more hinterland barangays of Escalante City, that will end with a peace rally on July 14.

PH to get more training, aid from US with ‘greater access’ plan—envoy

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 8): PH to get more training, aid from US with ‘greater access’ plan—envoy

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. FILE PHOTO

Plans to give United States troops access to the country’s bases would pave the way for more joint military training and greater American military assistance to the Philippines, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. said on Monday.

The envoy, who is visiting Manila this month along with Philippine Consuls from the United States, echoed earlier assurances from the government that any base access plan with the Americans would be done within the bounds of the Philippine Constitution.

“We’ve not completed the negotiations. It’s still going on,” Cuisia told reporters at the Department of Foreign Affairs on Monday.

“The VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) [is the] underlying agreement. We won’t go beyond that and we want to assure you that whatever agreement is entered into is going to be in line with the Constitution of the Philippines,” said the envoy.

First made public by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in June, the prospect of giving the US military greater access to Philippine bases has been discussed in previous bilateral consultations between the two sides.

The United States is the country’s closest defense partner and boosting the relationship is seen by the Philippines as a positive step towards fortifying external defense amid regional security concerns, primarily the Chinese military buildup in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

The American side is meanwhile in the process of a strategic pivot to the Asia Pacific, seen by China as an effort to contain its rise as a regional military power.

“[Y]ou know, we have the bilateral strategic dialogue every year. For the last two years that I’ve been in Washington, we’ve had three dialogues. The fourth is scheduled, and this comes up as part of our discussions, how can we strengthen the alliance between the United States and the Philippines,” Cuisia said.

He said the Philippines would only agree to open the country’s bases to ally access if such would be beneficial to both sides.

“We’ll not go into it if it’s not going to be beneficial to the Philippines. It has to be mutually beneficial to both the US and the Philippines,” said Cuisia.

But he cited upsides to the plan. “It, of course, enhances our capabilities because there’s going to be greater interoperability, so there’s going to be more training, more exercises, and so on,” he said.

“It will definitely contribute to a better training of our Armed Forces—our Navy, our Air Force and so on. We hope to also be able to get more assistance from the US in terms of military security, assistance,” he added.

He would not say which bases would be included in the access plan other than the Subic Bay Freeport, a former US naval base.

The US maintained military bases here until the Philippine Senate elected to oust them in 1992.

86 dead in Army-BIFF clashes in Maguindanao

From the Philippine Star (Jul 8): 86 dead in Army-BIFF clashes in Maguindanao

As many as 86 persons have been killed in clashes in Central Mindanao in the days leading to the resumption of the peace talks and the celebration of the holy month of Ramadan, the military said Monday.

Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, chief of the 6th Infantry Division, said they have received reports that 80 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) had been killed in law enforcement operations conducted last week.

Government forces, meanwhile, suffered six fatalities including an Army lieutenant who died in a landmine attack last Saturday in Shariff Saidona Mustapha, Maguindanao.

Gapuz said the information that 80 BIFF members had been slain was based on reports from the ground.

“They (soldiers) only saw 18 (bodies). We cannot just retrieve them because that is against their customs and tradition,” Gapuz said, noting that Muslims immediately bury their dead.

“On our part we have six killed, one officer and five enlisted personnel and we have two wounded in action,” he added.

Security forces conducted law enforcement operations in response to recent attacks of the BIFF, which broke away from the MILF due to differences.

BIFF has vowed to sabotage the peace process between the government and the MILF and to fight for Bangsamoro independence.

Army reports said the BIFF has conducted sporadic attacks on civilian communities and military detachments since last month.

Last June 19, the BIFF attacked civilians in barangay Bagumbayan in President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat, killing a farmer and a militia man.

On that same day, the BIFF troops led by a certain Uztads Zukarno Sapal also harassed a patrol base of the 33rd Infantry Battalion in the same community.

The BIFF also launched a series of attacks during the commemoration of Ramadan last year.

Quiet for now

Gapuz said they have called off their operations late Saturday in deference to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“The only clearance given to us by the joint (government-MILF) panel is three days to conduct the law enforcement operations, so we have to abide by that because we do not want to derail the peace process,” he said.

Gapuz, nevertheless, said they are prepared to thwart any attack to be staged by the BIFF forces.

“When it (BIFF atrocities) is happening in plain view, it is not proper for the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) not to react,” he said.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th division, said the area became quiet after the three-day operation.

“They (BIFF) are now scattered. Perhaps they are dizzy because of the encounter so it’s quiet now,” he said.

Hermoso said operations were conducted in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town and Barangay Damablas in Datu Piang, both in Maguindanao.

“These are their (BIFF) strongholds. They no longer have a base because we captured Camp Omar in 2012 so they converge in the two barangays,” he said.

Hermoso said they would continue to remain vigilant to preempt atrocities and to ensure the peaceful commemoration of the Ramadan.

Gov't, MILF act to prevent renewed hostilities in Mindanao from escalating

From the Philippine Star (Jul 8): Gov't, MILF act to prevent renewed hostilities in Mindanao from escalating

The government assured today that the fresh hostilities between government troops and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) in Maguindanao and North Cotabato would not escalate.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said that the security mechanisms put in place by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim rebel group in the country, are now addressing the situation.

"OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) is confident that the escalation of violence can be prevented by the CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities) and the AHJAG (Ad Hoc Joint Action Group) and other security mechanisms," she said in a text message.

At least 23 people, including five soldiers, were killed in the clash between the government troops and the BIFM, formerly known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF) and was founded by former MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato in 2010.

Kato, who had hundreds of followers, broke away with the MILF headed by Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, after the latter decided three years ago to give up its fight for an independent Islamic state.

The MILF and the Philippine government are now negotiating for the creation of a Bangsamoro entity that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The Bangsamoro, which is envisioned to get greater power compared to a usual region in the country, will remain under the Philippine republic.

PA to conduct reproductive health awareness and screening program

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 8): PA to conduct reproductive health awareness and screening program

To promote a healthy lifestyle among its personnel, the Philippine Army (PA) will conduct a reproductive health awareness and screening program at its Fort Bonifacio headquarters, Taguig City from July 8 to 26.

Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, Army spokesperson, said that almost a 1,000 PA personnel, both military and civilian, from Headquarters, Army Support Command (ASCOM), and General Headquarters are expected to benefit from the Prostate Awareness Seminar, STD/HIV/AIDS Awareness, and Breast Cancer/Cervical Cancer Awareness.

Various tests and screening will also be conducted such as Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) among male personnel for the early detection of prostate cancer; Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL), STD Screening, and HIV/AIDS Screening; and Pap Smear and Breast Examination among female personnel.

Cabangbang said doctors and nurses from the Army General Hospital (AGH) shall administer the tests which will be carried at the above-mentioned medical facility.

This undertaking is part of the PA-Wide Reproductive Health Program that includes prevention and management of reproductive tract infections (RTIs), HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmittable infections (STIs); prevention and management of reproductive tract cancers like breast and cervical cancers, and other gynaecological disorders and conditions; and promotion of healthy lifestyle activities as one of the activities to prevent related diseases.

The program has already been implemented by PA major subordinate units nationwide.

All things quiet now in North Cotabato, Maguindanao - AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 8): All things quiet now in North Cotabato, Maguindanao - AFP

Fighting between the renegade group "Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters" and government forces have ceased in North Cotabato and Maguindanao, military officials said Monday.

Armed Forces public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said "It is peaceful there now."

But despite the cessation of fighting, military units in the area are still on alert.

Zagala also clarified the resulting AFP offensive and pursuit operations against the BIFF fighters who attacked AFP personnel based there, were coordinated with the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

"They (MILF leadership) were consulted first before any retaliatory attacks were conducted against the BIFF," he added.

Zagala said this was necessary as the renegades have hidden themselves in an area known to host large numbers of MILF fighters.

The AFP public affairs office chief said the coordination was necessary to prevent encounters between government and MILF forces, hereby endangering the ongoing peace talks between the two parties.

"The MILF leadership agreed that such attacks should not be left unanswered," Zagala pointed out.

He also clarified that the BIFF attacks are harassment tactics only aimed at mobile and soft targets of the AFP.

"These are only small skirmishes and harassment attacks," the AFP public affairs office chief stated.

However, Zagala said that the incidents are deeply regretted by the military as they cost lives of five soldiers.

At least 23 were were believed killed as clashes broke out Saturday between the military and the BIFF in North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

Of those killed, five were from the government side, including one junior Army officer and four enlisted personnel.

Some 18 were reported killed from the BIFF side.

Two soldiers were also wounded-in-action, said Col. Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said.

Recent atrocities by the BIFF, perceived by the military as hell-bent to derail the peace process between the central government and the MILF, had prompted the military, and police as well as the government-MILF Ad Hoc Joint Action Group to launch law-enforcement operations.

AFP fetes 2 Indonesian officers

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 8): AFP fetes 2 Indonesian officers
The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday announced that two officers of the Indonesian National Defense Forces were conferred with the AFP Chief of Staff Commendation Medal and Ribbon.

These officers, Air First Marshal Prayitno and Col. Ivan Yulivan, were decorated for their “meritorious and valuable services rendered in strengthening the bilateral defense and military cooperation between the Philippines and Indonesia” by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista at the General Headquarters Canopy Area in Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

This highlights their efforts in the signing of the joint understanding between the Philippines-Indonesia on Military Cooperation (PHILINDO MC).

Apart from their consultative role in the signing of PHILINDO MC, the two Indonesian officers were also instrumental in the immediate release of US$ 1 million worth of funds for the victims of Typhoon "Pablo" in December last year.

The aid also included at least four tons of relief goods composed of 1,000 blankets, 3,000 packs of ready-to-eat meals, and other commodities.

“In view of the dynamic development of the security environment in our shared region, [Col. Ivan and I] are strongly committed to doing whatever we can to the further enhancement of a broader range of robust cooperation between TNI (Indonesian Armed Forces) and AFP, based upon a strategic and comprehensive framework of partnership in the many years ahead,” Prayitno said during the awarding ceremony.

PHILINDO MC was signed in December last year and covers conflict prevention/resolution; confidence building measures; internal, regional and border security; and promotion of the welfare of the people of both countries. It also includes intelligence sharing and joint training exercises.

In his three-day visit to the Philippines last year, Adm. Agus Suhartono, the Chief of the Indonesian National Defense Force, handed over the one US$ 1-million cheque and relief goods to then AFP chief-of-staff, Gen. Jessie D. Dellosa at the Eastern Mindanao Command.

Suhartono was also awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor -- the highest award the President can bestow without the need for approval of Congress.

This is for his strong commitment in deepening the military cooperation between the Philippines and the Indonesian military.

AFP ready to repel attacks of NPAs out to avenge defeat in Sorsogon

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 8): AFP ready to repel attacks of NPAs out to avenge defeat in Sorsogon

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday said that it was more than prepared to respond should the New People's Army (NPA) would decide to go ahead with its plan to conduct vengeance attacks against civilian and military targets in Sorsogon.

This is in the wake of the rebels' devastating defeat in in Barangay Upper Calmayon, Juban, Sorsogon last July 4 where eight of their members were killed following an encounter with 9th Infantry Division units.

Arnel Estiller alias ‘Ka Ariston’, Secretary of Larangan 2 of the Komiteng Probinsya (KomProb) in Sorsogon province and known NPA-Bicol Spokesman Greg Banares were among the eight killed during an encounter with the military in Barangay Upper Calmayon, Juban, Sorsogon on July 4.

The rebels stated that they will avenge the deaths of their ranking members.

"We are prepared to secure our citizens and respond to such attacks should they take place," AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

And should the rebels decide to conduct their own tactical offensive, he added that the military was more than willing to respond in kind.

"We are willing to take the initiative (in this matter)," Zagala stressed.

The AFP public affairs office chief also scored the NPAs for perpetuating a cycle of violence when the AFP and other groups are doing its best to bring peace and development in the countryside.

De Lima asked to issue legal opinion on proposal allowing US, Japan to use military bases in PHL

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 8): De Lima asked to issue legal opinion on proposal allowing US, Japan to use military bases in PHL
A fisherfolk group Monday asked Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima to issue a legal opinion that puts question on the constitutionality of the proposal to allow the United States government and other military allies of the Philippines to use military bases across the country.

In a three-page letter to De Lima dated July 8, 2013, members of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas, through its vice chair Salvador France and Peter Gonzalez, chair-Southern Tagalog, said they believe the Justice Department is "constitutionally, politically and morally obliged to issue a legal opinion that questions the legality of such proposal."

"We ask the honorable chief of the justice department to break her silence and tell the people in Malacanang that the proposal to give greater access to US, Japan and other junior partners of Washington DC for rated-A military intervention and aggression all over the country is a flagrant violation of the 1987 Constitution and grand affront to the sovereign rights of more than 100 million Filipinos," they said in their letter.

President Benigno S. Aquino III defended the plan to give the US and Japan access to the former US bases in the Philippines.

The government dismissed reports the Philippines planned to build a new air and naval bases that US forces could use to counter China's creeping presence in the West Philippine Sea.