Monday, August 5, 2013

Fil-Ams urge new US envoy to push for stronger military ties

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 5): Fil-Ams urge new US envoy to push for stronger military ties

Newly named Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg PHOTO FROM STATE.GOV

Filipino American leaders are calling on newly appointed US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg to push for stronger military relations between the United States and the Philippines.

They agreed that the dispute between the Philippines and China over territory and maritime lanes in the East and South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) should be the new ambassador’s top concern.

“The United States is already ‘pivoting’ towards Asia because of the prominent and aggressive role China has been playing in the past 10 years,” said Loida Nicolas-Lewis, chair of the US Pinoys for Good Government.  “Because of the strategic position of the Philippines in South East Asia, it is in the interest of the United States to be more present in our area.”

The disputed territories are believed to be rich in oil and mineral deposits. Claimant countries Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines have complained about various incidents and “acts of aggression” allegedly initiated by China that threaten and encroach upon its stakes in the disputed areas.

Jay Gonzalez, professor of Asian studies and international politics at the University of San Francisco believes the US should strengthen its military cooperation with and increase military aid to the Philippines.

“American military exercises are very critical, because of the US’ capacity to invite more participants [other countries],” said Gonzalez. “If the US doesn’t conduct these multicountry exercises in West Philippine Sea, it [would] only make the Philippines more insecure vis a vis China’s growing presence in that area.”

The Philippines has participated in the American-led  Pacific Rim joint military exercises with  Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, and the United Kingdom. Notably absent in the exercises was China.

Court of public opinion

While both the USPGG and Gonzalez agree that “negotiating a just and fair solution to China and the Philippines is the objective,” they differ on the means to achieve that end.

“The (USPGG) will continue to ‘internationalize’ this issue of China’s aggression and imperialist moves in Asia,” said Lewis, whose group has spearheaded worldwide protests, against Beijing.

Chinese media has downgraded the protests, but USPGG legal counsel Rodel Rodis believes the mass actions are making an impact. “Was it really just a coincidence that (five days after) our July global protests against China’s repeated violations of the territorial sovereignty of the Philippines, the US Senate passed a resolution expressing concern over China’s actions in the South China Sea?” Rodis asked.  “Perhaps in our own way we were able to influence US public opinion and the US government to condemn China’s actions.”

“With a long history of engagement in the region, the United States has a vital interest in working with all nations in developing, institutionalizing, and sustaining a rules-based order for the area. That starts with putting in place effective mechanisms to manage maritime disputes that destabilize the region, and supporting and encouraging the peaceful resolution of disputes in the Asia-Pacific maritime domain,” said Senate Committee on foreign relations chair Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), in a statement about the resolution.

Beijing said it has made “stern representations” with the US over the resolution, according to the Chinese foreign ministry’s official statement. China has insisted that disputes be dealt with bilaterally, that is one-on-one, with individual claimant nations, rejecting intervention by third parties not directly involved, such as the US or the United Nations.

While China is one of the signatories in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that defines rights and responsibilities in the use of international waters, no nation is legally bound to abide by the agreement.

Saving face the Asian way
Gonzalez believes the US could play a more significant role in resolving the conflict by acting as an honest broker to quietly settle the dispute, as a face-saving device for China. “In a closed door meeting, I think they might be able to come out with a mutually harmonious agreement,” said Gonzalez. “The problem with a very bilateral approach is that it’s very open and the media [will be] there. China has to act aggressively and defensively. Behind closed doors, China can be less defensive.”

Gonzalez believes that the trade relationship between Washington and Beijing would ultimately affect the outcome of US-brokered talks between aggrieved nations disputing with China. The US is now the biggest buyer of Chinese merchandise exports, helping fuel China’s rapid rise as an economic power.

“If you look at the larger relationship between the US and China, trade is still the bigger picture. (China and disputing nations) will still be in dialogue approach, and the US can be in the room,” said Gonzalez.

Back to bases?
In the worst-case scenario, however, that Beijing does not reach a mutually agreeable resolution with Manila, Lewis said she would back a controversial move to bring back foreign military bases in the Philippines. “Our only recourse is to ask the US and Japan to establish military bases (in Philippine territory) as a defensive measure against China’s aggression,” she said.

The Philippine Constitution bans continuous foreign military presence in the country, after the Philippine Senate voted to kick out America’s biggest overseas military bases in 1992.

“Yes, it would mean a constitutional change. I am in favor of having US (military) presence rather than be occupied piece by piece by a powerful neighbor, and possibly arming (rebel groups) to undermine the country’s security,” Nicholas-Lewis added. “(There are) two options. China or the United States.”

Gonzalez believes the US should instead invest in the Philippines by beefing up its meager arsenal with discounted military hardware. “I want to see the Philippines become a maritime power. That cannot happen without the US supplying hardware,” he said.

Seek out Fil-Am advice

“(Filipino American) leaders continue to be concerned about the welfare of the Filipino people,” said spokesperson Ted Laguatan, in a USPGG statement.

“They are an important influence group in Washington and with the Philippine government. Discussions and consultations with them on various issues can help (Goldberg) very much in his job as US ambassador to the Philippines.”

Human trafficking of Filipinos to America, the presence of Al Qaeda and its allied groups in the Philippines, the trade imbalance between the US and Philippines, and the appropriate use of Millennium Grant funds are among the other big issues that Filipino Americans leaders say Goldberg should target.

JI can't sow terror now, military claims

From ABS-CBN (Aug 5): JI can't sow terror now, military claims

The military on Monday assured the public that the country's security forces are always on its toes and keeping watch even before the global network was activated after the jailbreak of Al-Qaeda members in Baghdad, Iraq.

"We are intensifying our monitoring activities in order to preempt any of their planned actions to be conducted," said Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala of the Armed Forces Public Information Office.

"We have to also have a realization that terrorism is in our midst," he said.
Zagala urged greater vigilance among citizens to combat the threat of terrorism.

Al-Qaeda has a known terrorist cell in Southeast Asia, Jemaah Islamiyah. But Zagala said the group has no mobility at this time to sow terror in the country.

"We are monitoring the activities of JI personalities and and although I cannot reveal to you the specifics of this monitoring, we want to ensure everyone that their movements are very limited and confined to certain areas only and they do not have the freedom to conduct/plan terroristic acts as they used to do in the past," he said.

The AFP has not been able to link the recent bombing in Cagayan de Oro to Jemaah Islamiyah, as they are still in the process of awaiting the result of investigation being conducted by police authorities.

6 dead, 28 hurt in Cotabato blast

From the Sun Star (Aug 5): 6 dead, 28 hurt in Cotabato blast

At least six people died while 28 others were injured when a powerful car bomb went off along the national highway here around 4:50 p.m. Monday.

Initial reports from the Cotabato City police said the explosive was planted in one of the cars parked in front of Villa Funeral Homes and went off just in time the convoy of Cotabato City Mayor Guiapal Guiani Jr. was passing through the road.

Sources close to the mayor said one of the cars in the convoy, a Chevrolet assigned to Guiani, was badly hit by the bomb.
Cotabato blast
A body lies beside burnt vehicles after a powerful bomb exploded in Cotabato City on Monday (August 5, 2013). (AP)
Shrapnel of the bomb damaged the car’s tires and windshield. The car, however, is bullet-proof and the mayor was not inside it.
The car was used, instead, by his eldest sister, City Administrator Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, for her assessment of the flood victims that sought temporary shelter in at least six evacuation centers in the city.
Aniceto Rasalan, Guiani’s executive secretary, said Sayadi was not hit.
Rasalan also confirmed reports that one of the security guards and a policeman assigned in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) were among the fatalities.
Rasalan said that one of those killed was identified as Inspector Mama Manambuay, who happened to be along the road during the explosion.
He said Manambuay, head of the Police Intelligence Bureau of the Philippine National Police-Armm, was with Inspector Abubakar Mangelen who was also wounded during the blast.
Manambuay died while being treated at the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center (CRMC) in Cotabato City.
One of the mayor’s security guards, whose identity is still not known, was also killed in the explosion.
 Cotabato City explosion
 COTABATO. Police and military personnel inspect a burnt vehicle after a powerful bomb exploded in Cotabato city on Monday (August 5, 2013). (AP)
Rasalan, speaking for and on Mayor Guiani’s behalf, condemned the latest atrocity. He called the blast a dastardly act of terrorism.
“It was so unfortunate that while we’re still reeling from the effects of the floods, we’re again hit by this incident which we believe is a clear act of terrorism where many of our innocent civilians were again affected,” he said.
“Kung sino ang nasa likod dapat magbayad sa krimeng kanyang ginawa (Whoever is behind this must pay for the crime he committed),” Rasalan added.
Aside from the Chevrolet, shrapnel also hit nine other cars nearby.
Superintendent Rolen Balquin, city police director, said they are still getting details as to the motive and the identity of those behind the latest bombing in the city.
Shrapnel of the bomb also hit motorists and commuters plying the highway, caused fire, and hit several establishments near the villa.

Oppose proposals for a National ID system—CPP

From the CPP Website (Aug 5): Oppose proposals for a National ID system—CPP

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today called on the Filipino people to oppose proposals to establish a National ID system, saying this “will only be weaponized by the military in the suppression of democratic rights and serve as a tool of the reactionaries to advance their narrow political interests.”

The proposal for a national ID system was revived a few days ago in the reactionary congress through House Bill 6895 filed by Albay Representative Al Francis Bichara. If enacted into law, all Filipinos here and abroad will be required to secure non-transferable IDs from their local civil registrars.

“The proposed national ID system is a throwback to the cedula system of the Spanish colonial rule,” said the CPP. “Like the old Spanish cedula, it is bound to end up as a tool to control the people, their movements, economic and cultural life and political activities.”

“The people should oppose this proposal as it would cause long-term damage to their right to resist and rise up in the face of tyranny and oppression,” said the CPP. “Such a national ID system will only be used by the reactionaries to strengthen their class rule by having at their disposal another tool for suppressing the people.”

“In the hands of the reactionaries, such vast and concentrated information, such as that which will be gathered in the proposed national ID system, as well as those being amassed through online spying by intelligence agencies, is being transformed into a weapon directed against those who the state considers as its enemies.”

“Aquino is feigning disinterest with the national ID system, claiming concerns over privacy rights. But he had ended up expressing openness to the idea,” pointed out the CPP. “When was Aquino ever interested in privacy rights when his regime has pursued and defended the cybercrime law which violates such rights wholesale.”

“Aquino is again using his worn-out hyper-excusing tactic of ‘I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can’t prove anything!’ to dodge responsibility for pushing the national ID system, without actually opposing it or doing anything to stop it,” said the CPP. “This is the same tactic used by the US-Aquino regime in pushing for the neoliberal amendments to the 1987 constitution or chacha without appearing to do so.”

Photos: Cotabato Bombing (Aug 5)

Various sources as indicated (Aug 5): Compilation of Cotabato bombing photos

A body lies beside burnt vehicles after a powerful bomb exploded in Cotabato City on Monday (August 5, 2013). (AP) 

Cotabato City explosion

COTABATO. Police and military personnel inspect a burnt vehicle after a powerful bomb exploded in Cotabato city on Monday (August 5, 2013). (AP)

Vehicles along Sinsuat Avenue that were burned after the blast that killed at least five  and  wounded some 30 others.  JOHN UNSON 

8ID celebrates 25th Founding Anniversary

From the Philippine Information Agency (Aug 3): 8ID celebrates 25th Founding Anniversary

The 8th Infantry Division Philippine Army marked last Friday its 25th Founding Anniversary in a simple but meaningful celebration held at 8th ID Covered Court Camp General Lukban Maulong Catbalogan City.

Lt. General Noel A. Coballes, commanding general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) graced the occasion as guest of honor and speaker.

Highlight of the celebration was the presentation of awards to deserving military personnel in recognition of their gallantry and meritorious achievements in the conduct of internal peace and security operations from August 16, 2012 until July 16, 2013 and the giving of command plaques to combat batallions for their efficiency in the conduct of internal peace and security operations.

Plaques of Appreciation were also given to civilian personnel, government agencies and non-government agencies for their invaluable services and support to the command.

Some of the awards given were Best Junior Officer of the year, Best Enlisted Personnel of the year, Best CAA of the year and Medals for Combat Achievements.

In his welcome address, Major Gen. Gerardo T. Layug, commander, of the 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army expressed his gratitude to all active members of the stormtroopers and those who have retired for giving their best to serve the country and the people for the past 25 years.

He urged the soldiers to renew their commitment in the presence of their guests as witnesses to continue serving the people of Eastern Visayas towards achieving a sustainable development and a just and lasting peace.

Layug also underscored the importance of the celebration because this is their way of honoring the officers, men and civilian employees for their hard work, dedication, commitment to duty and service to people.

“As a Division commander of the 8th ID, I am very proud of the performance and the result of the internal peace and security operations of the division here in Eastern Visayas” he said.

He also recognizes the contribution and support of each stormtroopers, and the civilians.

Layug is optimistic that with the help and concerted efforts of the local leaders, different government agencies, NGOs, civilians, media practitioners and other stakeholders whom he considered as partners in public service, the soldiers will be successful in their fight against the root causes of insurgency and with the spirit of Bayanihan, they can make the communities in our areas insurgency-free and a better place for living.

On the other hand, Lt. Gen. Coballes congratulates the awardees for the said activity with a hope that more accomplishments will be recorded in the future. He also commended the soldiers in region 8 for the seizure of 137 enemy camps.

Aside from some high officials of the AFP, PNP region 8 director chief supt. Elmer Soria and some local officials in Eastern Visayas have also attended the celebration namely Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan Delos Santos, northern Samar governor Emil Ong, Catbalogan City Mayor Stephanie Uy-Tan and Vice Mayor Art Gabon, Leyte Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla was represented by Leyte’s first district Board Member Ranulfo Abellanosa and the representatives of Samar congressman Mel Sarmiento and Calbayog mayor Ronaldo Aquino.

Comelec Regional Director Atty. Nick Mendros, OCD director Rey Gozon, and the Rotary Club of Ormoc City also joined the celebration.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “25-taong tapat na paglilingkod sa mamamayan ng Silangang Bisayas tungo sa kapayapaan at kaunlaran.”

PA condemns effort to block its 'no maltreatment policy'

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): PA condemns effort to block its 'no maltreatment policy'
The Philippine Army (PA) on Monday has strongly condemned certain individuals contesting its "no maltreatment policy" in its training schools and centers.

"Reform policies designed to eliminate maltreatment and improve the relationship between new and senior trainees are being viewed by some as unfavorable to the development of soldier candidates. As such, negative comments had been circulating recently on how the PA is putting into action its reform agenda," Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes said.

He added that the PA leadership believes that this smear campaign is the handiwork of some persons who do not want to leave their positions and those that were affected by the PA's new reform policies on handling officer trainees.

Coballes stressed that these reforms are intended to ensure that the Army Transformation Roadmap (ATR) shall be anchored on a solid foundation – disciplined and motivated soldiers.

"In fact, all efforts are geared towards achieving the ATR objectives. One of the measures carried out to achieve this end is to institutionalize reforms in training schools, and review and improve existing training doctrines and programs," the PA chief emphasized.

All Army training schools had been directed to adopt the no maltreatment policy, he added.

"The PA believes that it cannot instill military discipline or encourage competence among trainees if they were subjected to physical abuse. The philosophy of employing physical violence among trainees should be struck down, because the practice only breed abusers and rights violators, instead of producing soldiers of character and competence," Coballes stated.

"We are saddened that there are still those who believe that discipline can be instilled through violence. It is the intent of the Army leadership to change this kind of principle, though, it would be better for the whole organization that these officers/soldiers be removed from the service," he added.

The PA chief stated that the Army leadership is serious in implementing these reforms.

He added that it is only proper to sanction any officer or member of the Army organization who is guilty of any infraction or who cannot give their 100 percent support to the no maltreatment policy or any other policy for that matter.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz good as new - PN

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): BRP Ramon Alcaraz good as new - PN

Contrary to popular belief that BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) and her sister ship, the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) are on their last legs of seagoing service, Philippine Navy (PN) spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic on Monday said that these vessels are good as new thanks to top-to-bottom refurbishment at US shipyards.

"Their (Hamilton-class cutters in PN service) condition after their refurbishment can be described as good as new as everything worn-out, defective or old has been replaced with new parts," he pointed out.

Fabic cited the case of BRP Ramon Alcaraz which underwent an intensive refurbishment before proceeding on her two-month voyage to the Philippines.

Included in the refurbishment of the latter ship is the replacement of one of its main engines and complete overhaul of the other one.

With these repairs, BRP Ramon Alcaraz's powerplant is in excellent condition.

With these upgrades, the ship was able to run up to 25 knots during the initial phase of her journey last June.

Improvements made in the Filipino vessel include installation of new communication and sensor devices aside from new weapons.

The two ships are a great help in boosting the PN'scapability to patrol and protect the country's vast coast lines which measures 36,289 kilometers (equivalent 22,549 miles) has been greatly boosted.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz and the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar are ideal ships for this mission due to their range, speed, size and good sea-keeping capabilities.

Both vessels, designated as frigates in Philippine Navy (PN) service, weighs 3,250 tons, has a length of 378 feet, beam of 43 feet, and draft of 15 feet.

Its propulsion systems consist of two diesel engines and two gas turbine engines, giving it a top speed of 29 knots.

The ship has cruising range of 14,000 miles (equivalent to 22,530.816 kilometers) and has a sea and loiter time of 45 days.

PN flag-officer-in-charge Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano called the arrival of the BRP Ramon Alcaraz and delivery of the three naval helicopters by December a "significant milestone".

"The PN finds it to be a significant development in line with the (ongoing) modernization program and capability upgrade," he added.

"These helicopters are just a few among the list of future acquisition for the PN in order to attain its vision of becoming a strong and credible Navy that our maritime nation can be proud of," the PN chief emphasized.

Navy to feed orphans in Puerto Princesa City

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): Navy to feed orphans in Puerto Princesa City

Combating hunger and malnutrition is more than a moral duty or a policy choice, said Commodore Joseph Rustom O. Peña, chief of the Naval Forces West which will conduct a food feeding activity on August 10 at Bantay Bata 163 orphanage in Barangay San Pedro here.

The activity is part of the 36th founding anniversary celebration of the Palawan-based NavForWest, wherein the Fleet-Marine team will hold a string of activities for the orphans housed at the orphanage, including a food feeding program.

“With the increasing need at our local orphanages, food feeding like this one helps make sure we can keep up with feeding our wards, which wouldn’t be possible without the help of organizations like the Naval Forces West. We are very fortunate to live in such a supportive community,” said Apolonia David, City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) chief.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme annual study measuring food security in the Philippines, the number of Filipino families living in food insecure homes reached nearly 1.8 million in December 2012.

Palawan's Western Command trains soldiers to embody Oplan Bayanihan

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): Palawan's Western Command trains soldiers to embody Oplan Bayanihan

About 100 members from the Operation Control and Operation Command (OPCON/OPCOM) units of the Western Command (Wescom) took part in the 15-day Small Unit Combat Operation Training (SUCOT) which focuses on developing and enhancing the participants' peace-building capabilities.

The training held at the Wescon headquarters in Honda Bay, in Brgy. Sta. Lourdes here, will also implements the objectives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) "Oplan Bayanihan."

The training, which ended Monday, will improve mission-essential capabilities and individual skills and unit cohesiveness. Continuous honing of each soldier's war-fighting skills and warrior spirit will also include inculcating in each the principles of human rights, international humanitarian law and rule of law.

Oplan Bayanihan has four strategic concepts - contribution to the permanent and peaceful closure of all armed conflicts, conducting focused military operations, supporting community-based peace and development efforts and carrying out security sector reform (SSR) which adheres to the whole-of-nation and people-centered approaches to attain lasting peace and continuous progress in the country.

Aside from their capability on war-fighting requirements, non-traditional capabilities will also be enhanced to improve soldiers' ability to pursue collaborative efforts with other internal peace and security stakeholders which involves the development of skills necessary to catalyze, motivate and facilitate the active participation of all stakeholders.

The soldiers' capacity to engage in peace-building efforts will be also developed as they will be more proactive players in facilitating initiatives to pre-empt and manage armed violence such as conflict prevention, conflict management and conflict resolution.

The participants of the training were divided into small groups of no more than 10 individuals whose main mission is humanitarian in nature. The group, though small in number, will be fully equipped and can help the civilian populace achieve peace and development, said Lt. Gen. Rustico O. Guerrero, commander of the Wescom.

Murder of bus driver in Maguindanao blamed on extortion groups

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): Murder of bus driver in Maguindanao blamed on extortion groups
The military here blamed the al-Khobar extortion gang as the gunmen who shot dead a bus driver and wounded his conductor in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao Saturday, an Army spokesperson Monday said.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the Army's 6th Infantry Division based in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, said the al-Khobar extortion gang, composed of former Moro rebels turned bandits, had been mulcting the Husky Bus Company, the lone bus firm serving the Cotabato-Gen. Santos Highway.

Before last Saturday's ambush, the bus firm had been subjected to previous harassment like grenade attacks, strafing and bombing by suspected extortion groups operating in Maguindanao like the al-Khobar and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Abelardo Nicor Jr., driver of Husky Air Condition bus with body number 1188, was hit in his head and lost control of the steering wheel when two men riding in tandem on a motorbike fired cal. 45 pistol through the window of the vehicle at 12:45 p.m.

Ronaldo Ampan, 35, bus conductor, was wounded in his shoulder while Rahima Ali was also killed when the bus rammed his roadside house in Barangay Labo-Labor, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

The bus swerved to the right after the gunmen shot the driver, Hermoso said.

Heading for Gen. Santos City, the Husky bus left Cotabato City at past 9 a.m. and ambushed at past 12 noon, the second incident in 30 days against the public transport.

Last July 11, gunmen believed to be extortionists, strafed the bus as it approached the town of Guindulungan. Nobody was hurt in that incident which police said could be the handiwork of extortion groups.

The bus firm officials admitted it has been receiving extortion letters from armed men asking for protection money accompanied by warnings the Husky units will be subjected to harassment if the demands are ignored.

Following the incident, the military deployed uniformed personnel aboard the vehicle every time it passes by the restive towns of Guindulungan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Ampatuan and Datu Abdullah Sangki.

U.S.-funded Samar road provides 1,700 jobs

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): U.S.-funded Samar road provides 1,700 jobs

The US$ 214.4 million - funded road project connecting Samar and Eastern Samar has generated 1,700 jobs as of last month, the Millennium Challenge Account Philippines (MCA-P) reported.

In a July 2013 report, MCA-P said that of the number of employed persons by the road rehabilitation project, 1,222 of them or 73 percent are from the local communities. At least 178 of them are women.

MCA-P Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Marivic Añonuevo said jobs created in construction are just one of the positive impacts of the project.

MCA-P, the Philippine entity tasked to manage US Compact projects assured that in hiring workers, there’s zero tolerance for child labor and strict observance of high standard of occupational safety.

These workers are engaged in road clearing, pipe installation, drainage construction, traffic control, grubbing, road signs installation, road concreting and other road rehabilitation activities.

As of end of July 2013, 10 percent or 22.4 kilometers of the 222-kilometers road project from Paranas, Samar to Guiuan, Eastern Samar has been upgraded already.

Contract package (CP) 1, which involves the upgrading of 16.36 kilometers road and two bridges in Paranas town, has started October 2012. The P808-million partnerships is a partnership of DM Consunji Inc. & CM Pancho Construction Inc, the only all Filipino-owned consortium among four road segments.

Under CP3, 11.53 kilometers of the road surface have been applied with asphalt. The third contract, which was awarded September 2012, is a 64.58-kilometers long of highway from the boundary Sulat and San Julian towns to the border of Balangkayan and Llorente towns.

The P2.45 billion road segment also includes rehabilitation of 11 bridges and reconstruction of six others. It is a joint venture of Qingjian Group Co. Ltd. and Mac Builders.

For CP4, MCA-P and contractors Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corp. and Yakal Construction have signed a deal on April for the rehabilitation of 77.5 kilometers of existing road.

The P2.2 billion project package cuts through the towns from Llorente to Guiuan will rehabilitate 14 bridges.

Chinese firm Qingjian Group Co. Ltd. has started this month the civil works for CP 2, which is the biggest of the four segments of the Secondary National Roads Development Project (SNRDP).

The P2.5 billion contract will upgrade 63.78 kilometers highway from Hinabangan in Samar to the boundary of Sulat and San Julian in Eastern Samar. Also included is the rehabilitation of 20 bridges reconstruction of five others.

The project involves the rehabilitation of existing roads and bridges that includes widening, drainage installation and other road safety improvements.

The SNRDP requires the biggest chunk of the 434 million dollar grant from the US government. It aims to rehabilitate the 222-kilometer road connecting Samar and Eastern Samar province and improve the road condition in one of the country’s poorest provinces.

Joint Task Force GenSan gets new head

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): Joint Task Force GenSan gets new head

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has designated a veteran Army officer to spearhead the security operations in this city.

Col. Victor Tan, a former assistant commander of the Army's 1102nd Brigade based in Sarangani Province, formally assumed over the weekend as the new commanding officer of the Joint Task Force GenSan.

He replaced Col. Manuel Ramos, who headed the Army-led task force in the last nine months.

Tan, who is a member of the Philippine Military Academy's Class of 1982, previously headed Army's 72nd Infantry Brigade and the Task Force Kitaco, which was assigned to secure the copper and gold mining areas within the tri-boundaries of Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

Kitaco stands for the municipalities of Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, Tampakan in South Cotabato and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

The three municipalities hosts the proposed large-scale copper and gold mining project of the foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines Inc., which figured in a number of attacks in the last several years from the communist New People's Army.

With his assumption as head of the city's joint security task force, Tan assured residents on Monday of sustained peace and order within the city's 26 barangays.

The official said they are presently reviewing and evaluating the task force's security plan to determine whether they are still relevant with the area's situation.

“We will implement some changes and set new strategies if necessary,” he said in an interview aired over a local television station.

Tan said among his priorities is the strengthening of their coordination with the city police office, especially in the conduct of joint security operations and exchanges of intelligence information.

He said the task force will further beef up their security checkpoints, especially those located at the entry and exit points of the city.

“We're looking at jointly manning these checkpoints along with the local police and have joint activities on other aspects of the city's security,” he added.

Bomb attack in Cotabato shows lack of respect for human life by terror group -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): Bomb attack in Cotabato shows lack of respect for human life by terror group -- AFP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Monday announced the recent bomb attack in Cotabato City, which killed four persons and wounded 21 others, highlighted the terrorists lack of respect for human life.

"This bombing shows that terrorists have no respect to (sic) human life and property. The goal is to sow fear, that's the objective of these terrorists.We must come together as a people to collectively fight and condemn this act," AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

He added troops are already in the area to help the wounded and secure the blast site.

"We join the Philippine National Police not only in securing Cotabato but to find out who is responsible for this heinous crime," Zagala stressed.

Initial reports said the explosion occurred at Sinsuat Avenue in Cotabato City at around 4:30 p.m.

Four people were reportedly killed while another 21 are wounded.

"Our Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 has already deployed explosive ordnance disposal teams and K-9 units to support the PNP in its investigations. We have also deployed units to conduct area security and to cordon the periphery. We call on the people to stay calm and cooperate with government authorities for the prevention of similar incidents," Zagala concluded.

Cotabato City blast kills 6

From Rappler (Aug 5): Cotabato City blast kills 6

BLAST. A powerful bomb exploded in a busy street in Cotabato City. Photo by Zainudin Malang/Minhrac

BLAST. A powerful bomb exploded in a busy street in Cotabato City. Photo by Zainudin Malang/Minhrac

A powerful bomb exploded at the center of Cotabato City on Monday, August 5, killing at least 6 and injuring 25, according to the military.

Lt Col Custodio Parcon of the Armed Forces Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 said a cop was among the fatalities. The Marine Battalion was deployed to assist the police in investigating the explosion. EOD and K9 units were deployed.

"Apparently a multicab was used as car bomb parked near Villa Funeral Home. Allegedly it went off after the vehicle of City Administrator Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi passed by," according to a separate report by the Office of Civil Defense in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The explosion occurred at Sinsuat Avenue in Cotabato City at around 4:30 p.m. All injured are receiving medical treatment at the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center.

"We call on the people to stay calm and cooperate with government authorities for the prevention of similar incidents," said AFP public information chief Lt Col Ramon Zagala.

The late-afternoon blast damaged at least 4 vehicles and triggered a fire that engulfed a nearby mortuary and a tire repair shop, he added.
CAR BOMB. Authorities say a multicab was used as a car bomb in the attack. Photo by Zainudin Malang/Minhrac

CAR BOMB. Authorities say a multicab was used as a car bomb in the attack. Photo by Zainudin Malang/Minhrac

Cotabato is a mixed Muslim-Catholic city on the main southern island of Mindanao, where Muslim insurgents have waged a decades old rebellion that has claimed 150,000 lives.

It was the second bombing to hit Mindanao in 10 days. A powerful blast at a restaurant packed with doctors and pharmaceutical salesmen left 8 people dead in Cagayan de Oro City on July 26.

More than 300 persons were killed in bombing attacks in Mindanao over the last 12 years.

PH PLAN VS TERROR THREAT | Police to implement 3-tiered defense system

From InterAksyon (Aug 5): PH PLAN VS TERROR THREAT | Police to implement 3-tiered defense system

With United States intelligence services detecting a global terror threat against its citizens, the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Monday announced that it will respond to such threats using its three-tiered defense system.

These are: intelligence, target-hardening and incident management, PNP spokesperson Senior Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac said.

"We take the recent worldwide travel warning issued by the U. with serious attention and great concern, more so because there are domestic threat groups with links to international terrorist organizations that are operating in the Philippines," he added.

Sindac also stressed that recent arrests of local terrorist personalities, particularly those of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-National Capital Region and the Intelligence Group, demonstrate the PNP's sustained and intensified efforts against these terrorist groups.

"It is the responsibility of any foreign government to ensure the safety of its citizens while traveling to different global destinations. The US is keen on exercising this responsibility by alerting it citizens as well as allied law enforcement counterparts of potential terror threats," the PNP public information office chief said.

China says in no hurry to sign South China Sea accord

From InterAksyon (Aug 5): China says in no hurry to sign South China Sea accord

China is in no rush to sign a proposed agreement on maritime rules with Southeast Asia governing behavior in the disputed South China Sea, and countries should not have unrealistic expectations, the Chinese foreign minister said on Monday.

After years of resisting efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to start talks on the proposed Code of Conduct, China said it would host talks between senior officials in September.

Washington has not taken sides, but Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated in Brunei last month the U.S. strategic interest in freedom of navigation through the busy sea and desire to see a Code of Conduct signed quickly.

Speaking in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said a lot more work on the Code of Conduct (CoC) was needed.

"China believes that there should be no rush. Certain countries are hoping that the CoC can be agreed on overnight. These countries are having unrealistic expectations," China's official Xinhua news agency paraphrased Wang as saying.

"...The CoC concerns the interests of various parties and its formulation demands a heavy load of coordination work," he added. "No individual countries should impose their will on others."

Previous efforts to discuss the Code of Conduct had failed "due to disturbances from certain parties", Wang said, without naming any countries.

"Instead of making disturbances, parties should make efforts that are conducive to the process so as to create the necessary conditions and atmosphere," said Wang.

Friction over the South China Sea, one of the world's most important waterways, has surged as China uses its growing naval might to more forcefully assert its vast claims over the oil- and gas-rich sea, raising fears of a military clash.

Four ASEAN nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have overlapping claims with China.

China and the Philippines accuse each other of violating the Declaration of Conduct, a non-binding confidence-building agreement on maritime conduct signed by China and ASEAN in 2002.

Such differences could be another obstacle to agreeing on a more comprehensive pact as China has stressed that countries must first show good faith by abiding by the DoC.
Critics say China is intent on cementing its claims over the sea through its superior and growing naval might, and has little interest in rushing to agree to a code of conduct.

Divisions among ASEAN over the maritime dispute burst into the open a year ago when a summit chaired by Chinese ally Cambodia failed to issue a closing communique for the first time in the group's 45-year history.

Military on full alert in Maguindanao on Ramadan end

From InterAksyon (Aug 5): Military on full alert in Maguindanao on Ramadan end

Military checkpoint in Cotabato City, 5 August 2013. DENNIS ARCON/

The entire 6th Infantry Division is on full alert in the province of Maguindanao as Ramadan ends this Friday.

The alert level was raised after news spread in the province that an armed group seeks to wreak havoc here.

The end of Ramadan, or Eid al-F’tr, also marks the end of a month-long fasting among Muslims.

Commanding General Romeo Gapuz, of the 6th ID, immediately directed everyone under his command to effect measures that would secure civilians within their area of responsibility, said 6th ID spokesman Dicson Hermoso.

In a related development, hundreds of families initially evacuated last week following an encounter between the military and some armed groups are staying at the evactuation center by the national highway in Barangay Macasampen in the town of Guindolongan.

The evacuees have moved many times due to armed conflict even before the observance of Ramadan last month.

A number of civilians, soldiers, and those from the armed groups have lost their lives in the fighting.

The civilians most affected by the armed conflict have thus called for peace among the combatants.

At the same time, Maguindanao Vice Governor Datu Lester Sinsuat said he is saddened by the breakout of violence in the province. He said the people have already suffered the floods and the firefight in the month of Ramadan.

He expressed hope that dialogue will stop the violence. He said he hopes that the Bangsamoro definition of Islam -- peace -- will be maintained.

What is the BRP Alcaraz, our second warship, capable of?

From InterAksyon (Aug 5): What is the BRP Alcaraz, our second warship, capable of?

The BRP Alcaraz will be equipped with two 25-mm MKE 201 HEI-T machineguns. NAVY PHOTO

What is the Philippines’ second warship BRP Ramon Alcaraz capable of in terms of firepower?

While it has no missile system, the former Hamilton-class cutter of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) has been equipped with two units of 25mm bushmaster gun system for defensive purposes.

The Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., which manufactures missile systems, has offered a proposal to the Department of National Defense (DND) to arm the ship with a missile system, a Navy source told

BRP Alcaraz has not been equipped with missile system because “under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS), arming the ship with sophisticated weapons such as missiles needs the approval of (the US) Congress.”

Also, such weapons are very expensive and were not included in the acquisition plan of the BRP Alcaraz, the source said.

Makikita niyo bukas kung naka-mount na ba itong dalawang machineguns na ito sa may bandang likuran ng barko o hindi pa (You will see tomorrow if these two machineguns have already been mounted toward the back of the ship or not). This type of gun system is for defensive purposes,” the source said.

He said the BRP Gregorio del Pilar will most likely be installed with a missile system first.

Like the BRP del Pilar, the first acquisition from the USCG, the BRP Alcaraz has a 76mm machine.

Decommissioned by the USCG several years ago, the two cutters were bought and refurbished by the Navy for more than P1 billion to boost its naval capability for territorial defense in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) against aggressors such as China.

On Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino III will lead the welcoming and commissioning of BRP Alcaraz at Subic, Zambales, where it is currently anchored after almost a month of sea voyage from the US.

The skipper of BRP Alcaraz is Capt. Renato Baldovino, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class 1991.

Some of his batch mates are currently skippers of Navy ships or battalion commanders in the Army and Marines.

Baldovino topped the Naval Officer Qualification Course and was formerly assigned at the PMA Training Cadets. He underwent commandership in patrol gunboats and patrol craft escort.

A licensed electronics and communications engineer, he is also a seasoned skipper of Navy ships, assigned from Luzon to Mindanao, including a stint in patrolling WPS particularly the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

3 Arabic teachers killed in motorcycle ambush on North Cotabato highway

From InterAksyon (Aug 5): 3 Arabic teachers killed in motorcycle ambush on North Cotabato highway

One of the ambush victims in North Cotabato lay on the pavement, 4 August 2013. FERDZ BALLENTES/

Three Arabic teachers on board two motorcycles were killed in an ambush on North Cotabato highway Sunday morning.

Usman Kanting, Normi Usman, and Budin Jamil died on the spot after receving gunshots to the head from a caliber .45 pistol, prompting the police to conclude that professional killers were behind the killing.

Another target, Abdul Racman Talib, 42, was wounded but survived the attack. He is now recuperating in an undisclosed hospital.

The four were on board two motorcycles when two assailants who were also on two motorcycles waylaid them.

Senior Superintendent Danilo Peralta said the incident happened in “a tranquil” portion of the highway at Barangay Baguer, Libungan, North Cotabato around 9 a.m. on Sunday.

“We can say the assailants are professional hitmen or hired killers based on how they initiated the killing,” Peralta said.

Police investigation showed that the victims were on their way to attend an Islamic symposium on the peace process at the nearby town of Pikit when the ambush took place.

“They may have been tailed from when they left Cotabato City. The suspects took advantage of the serenity of the highway, which is far from populated areas,” Peralta said.

The provincial police office has sent investigators to the victims’ hometown in Campo Muslim, Cotabato City to get more details about them, but the families were grieving and preparing for the burial of the dead.

Authorities have no idea for the motive behind the ambush.

“We will wait until the lone survivor can give the full details of the incident,” Peralta said.

On the other hand, Chief Inspector Bernard Tayong, Libungan police director, said witnesses have identified one of the gunmen and he is now the subject of a manhunt.

Bomb explodes in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 5): Bomb explodes in Southern Philippines

A bomb explosion has killed at least 5 people in fresh attack Monday in Cotabato City in the restive southern region of Mindanao in southern Philippines.

The blast occurred around 4.30 p.m. outside a row of restaurants along Sinsuat Avenue and the explosion was so powerful that it destroyed several parked vehicles.  

The powerful explosion also sent debris flying in all directions, but the type of bomb used in the attack is still unknown, although other reports said a car bomb was detonated in the area.

The military has confirmed the attack, but officials could not immediately give a detailed report of the bombing, saying, investigators were busy gathering evidence. Troops were also sent to the area to help police secure the scene or search explosives.

“Magulo pa sa scene,” Col. Dickson Hermoso, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division, told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the latest attack, but it occurred just 10 days after a deadly bombing at Kyla’s Bistro Bar in Cagayan de Oro City, also in southern Philippines, that killed 8 people and wounded 48 others.

Authorities would not say whether the attack in Cagayan de Oro was connected to the latest bombing.

It was unknown whether the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and former Moro National Liberation Front rebels, who are opposed to the government peace talks with the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front, are involved in the attack.

In June, a grenade was also lobbed at a military encampment in Cotabato City, although no casualties were reported. The city had been bombed by rebels many times in the past and there were also some attacks that authorities said were connected to political rivalry and clan war. 

Last year, an improvised explosive assembled from 81mm mortar bomb went off in Cotabato City and military and police blamed the attack on the shadowy groups Bangsamoro Independence Movement and Bangsamoro Youth Movement.

Cotabato City, once tagged by the United States as a “doormat” for terrorists in the southern Philippines, is one of the most dangerous places in Mindanao with killings occurring almost every day and had been a target of terror attacks in recent years.

6 dead, 25 hurt in Cotabato City blast — military

From GMA News (Aug 5): 6 dead, 25 hurt in Cotabato City blast — military

Six people were reported killed while 25 others were injured following an explosion in Cotabato City on Monday, the military said.

"As of 5:50 p.m., there are six confirmed dead ones," said Lt. Col. Custodio Parcon, commander of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 1.

One of the fatalities was a policeman based in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Parcon said.

"The explosion was on a very busy street," said Cotabato city police chief Senior Superintendent Rolen Balquin in an interview with Catholic radio station DXMS.

Parcon said the improvised explosive device was attached to a motorcycle parked at corner of Maniara street and Sinsuat Avenue.

Armed Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the explosion occurred at 4:30 p.m.

Investigation was ongoing as of press time.

"We call on the people to stay calm and cooperate with government authorities for the prevention of similar incidents," Zagala said.

Coast Guard deploys special op group to guard US Embassy

From GMA News (Aug 5): Coast Guard deploys special op group to guard US Embassy

In the wake of a global alert warning of possible terrorist attacks on the United States, the Philippine Coast Guard on Monday deployed an elite Special Operations Group team to help guard the US Embassy in Manila.

The Special Operations Group will patrol the portion of Manila Bay near the Embassy, radio dzBB's Carlo Mateo reported.

More SOG teams were placed on standby, ready for deployment if needed, the report said.

The report said police are already monitoring the embassy premises.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard and Philippine Ports Authority are on guard in other ports, with K-9 and sea marshal units.

AFP ready to provide extra security

Earlier Monday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it is prepared to provide extra security to the Embassy.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the AFP presently has units that are helping secure the embassy premises along Roxas Boulevard.

"If they will request [additional security], we can heed that request. Sa ngayon wala pa po," Zagala said in an interview on dzBB radio.

For now, Zagala said the AFP will have its field units stay "vigilant" and monitor any unusual activity, to prevent any threat or act of terrorism.

On Sunday, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia Jr. has ordered intensified intelligence-gathering and target-hardening efforts.

The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) over the weekend issued a global security alert and advised increased vigilance for terrorist activity.

It cited suspected Al Qaeda involvement in several recent prison escapes.

"With suspected Al Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the INTERPOL alert requests the Organization’s 190 member countries’ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events are coordinated or linked," it said.

MILF: Editorial--Easy to declare independence

Posted to the MILF Website (Aug 1): Editorial: Easy to declare independence

(To) declare independence is very easy. It does not take the tongue to dry up. More importantly, it is not a violation of international law, as long as it is not backed up by violence. In this respect, MNLF chief Nur Misuari by his recent declaration of independence is still in the safety zone.
However, does his declaration change anything? The answer depends on who is making the answer.  But one thing sure is that the government has to manage and contain the ill-effects of the declaration. It appears the government is quick on the draw and has already done and is doing something to stave-off the impact.

There are many requisites for real honest-to-goodness declaration of independence. First, one is serious and real preparation to meet the “mother entity” in whatever manner fitting. A mere rhetoric will not work. Second, one has the army ready to die for the cause of secession, a popular support, and enough resources to sustain the confrontation. And third, the support of the international community is crucial. At this juncture, one pertinent question is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) backing up this declaration? So far there is no clear indication to that effect.  Even Indonesia, which chairs the OIC-MNLF-GPH Tripartite Review Body, has already said it opposes any plan to dismember the Philippines.

The truth is that seeking the support of the United Nations is something like asking for the moon to fall. The United Nations, while it is supposed to be independent, is not free to make any decision. There are five permanent members which have veto powers. Moreover, while it is true that the Philippines is struggling to adopt a third world policy, but nature has placed it within the sphere of influence (we will not use “control”) of the United States and it has no immediate means to shred off that situation. Therefore, a favorable action of the United Nations on Misuari’s declaration of independence cannot ignore the view of the United States on the matter, perhaps not tacitly.

Frankly, we are saddened by the turn of event on Misuari. He started advocating for independence but compromised to work on real autonomy within the Philippine state under the facilitation of the OIC and only to end his long revolutionary career by accepting the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which is merely an administrative region. Frustrated, sidelined, and aging, he now speaks of reverting back to independence. Is this the best way to end his career? What is in the offing for his followers? Will the declaration make any difference in the current status of the MNLF Misuari faction?

We are not here to decide on these questions. Instead, we assure our brothers in the MNLF that the MILF stands at all times ready to work together for the common good of the Bangsamoro. The Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro (FAB) is not designed for the MILF. It is for the Bangsamoro. The role of the MILF is good only for the transition, never beyond that. If we want to continue this role, we have to participate in elections and if we win the majority in the Bangsamoro assembly, then we form the government.