Thursday, October 31, 2013

Navy haunted by officer's death 18 years ago

From Rappler (Oct 31): Navy haunted by officer's death 18 years ago

LOOKING FOR CLOSURE: Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño

LOOKING FOR CLOSURE: Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño

It's a case that refuses to die.

It's been 18 years since the puzzling death of Navy ensign Philip Andrew Pestaño inside his cabin on supply ship BRP Bacolod City. The investigation stirred back to life with the recent Court of Appeals ruling upholding the dismissal of 10 Navy officers implicated in his death.

It's a welcome news that Felipe Pestaño, 73, and wife Evelyn, 70, brought to their son's grave at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on Thursday, October 31. Philip was 23 when he died. He should have been 41 now.

"We're just happy to see that justice is moving. It's been a long time, but there's hope," Philip's sister Marissa Pestaño told Rappler.

The Philippine Navy said Philip committed suicide. The Pestaños said it was murder. The family's cry for justice prompted a Senate hearing in 1997 because of allegations that the death had something to do with illegal activities inside the ship. Philip was supposedly about to expose them.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales last year recommended murder charges and ordered the dismissal of the Navy officers. This reversed a ruling by her predecessor Merceditas Gutierez that upheld the suicide theory. (READ: Murder charges vs 10 for Pestaño death).

The Navy officers immediately questioned before the CA the Ombudsman's new ruling. They said the case should not be revived because Gutierrez's ruling was final. But the CA said Gutierrez did not make a ruling on their innocence but merely concluded that the evidence was insufficient.

The CA ruling only covers the ruling that orders their dismissal. The court cannot act on the murder charges because a motion for reconsideratino is pending before the Ombudsman.

Marissa said his father received the news on October 28, a day after his birthday. It was Felipe who never gave up on the case in spite of the roadblocks through the years.

Marissa is quite certain the Navy officers will elevate the case to the Supreme Court, but it's a huge development, she said.

While the family has accepted Philip's death, she said they want to continue his battle. "These are the principles he died for. He wanted to expose illegal logging and and gun running," she said.

Conflicting theories

Navy civil military operations chief Colonel Edgard Arevalo told Rappler they have received the CA decision. The officers involved will meet with the lawyers after the Halloween break. At least two of the 10 Navy officers implicated are still active.

The respondents are:
  • Naval Captain Ricardo Ordoñez
  • Cdr. Reynaldo Lopez
  • HM2 Welmenio Aquino
  • LCdr. Luidegar Casis
  • LCdr. Alfrederick Alba
  • MR2 Sandy Miranda
  • LCdr. Joselito Colico
  • LCdr. Ruben Roque
  • Petty Officer 1st Class Carlito Amoroso
  • Petty Officer 2nd Class Mil Leonor Igcasan

Arevalo said they are confident that independent investigation will show what truly happened to Philip.

Various bodies have investigated the case. The findings are conflicting.

The Senate investigation concluded he was shot. The National Bureau of Investigation declared it was suicide. Forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel del Rosario-Fortun, whom the Pestaños themselves hired to investigate, declared it was suicide. Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez also dismissed the case. (READ: Expert insists Pestaño death was suicide)

The Pestaño family cannot be convinced, accusing the government of a coverup.

Under the Aquino administration, the Pestaños found allies among the people behind the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez. Her alleged inaction on motion for reconsideration filed by the Pestaños was included as grounds in the impeachment complaint. It resulted in revived media interest in the case.

Ombudsman Morales re-opened the case and ruled out suicide. She said there's prima facie case of conspiracy to commit murder. She recommended the filing of murder charges before the Sandiganbayan and the dismissal of the officers involved. (READ: Pestaño case not suicide but murder)

The Ombudsman cited the "series of circumstances – the unusual actions and reactions of respondents on the alleged discovery of Philip’s death, the inconsistencies in their testimonies, the physical and object evidence, and the additional evidence unearthed in the AFP investigation which were made available to the complainants ten years after Philip’s death."

Key officer has left PH

While the CA ruling is a welcome development, Marissa is concerned because one of the officers who could shed light to the case has left the country since his retirement.

"Ruben Roque is already in the US. Why was he not ordered to go home? He's a key. He was the executive officer, second in command," Marissa said.

The separate murder case against the Navy officers was dismissed by the Sandiganbayan for lack of jurisdiction. The court argued that none of the respondents had the rank of Navy captain when the incident happened. The court only hears cases of military officers with the rank of colonel and higher. (READ: Court junks Pestaño murder case vs Navy officers)

The case has since been moved to the Manila regional trial court. Marissa said the scheduled arraignment in May was postponed. A new hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Eighteen long years has passed since Philip's death. Closure – both for the family and the officers implicated – is long overdue.

Church Recognizes Military Efforts

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Oct 31): Church Recognizes Military Efforts

Advance Command Post, 303rd Infantry Brigade, Bacolod City – In one of the rare events, a Church recognizes the hard work of the military in the Province of Negros Occidental.

The Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church based in La Carlota City invited Col. Jon N. Aying, Brigade Commander of the 303rd Infantry (Brown Eagle) Brigade as Guest Speaker last October 27, Sunday with an event dubbed "Military Recognition Sunday" to recognize the effort, dedication and service of the military in the Province.

In his speech, Aying explained the role of the military in a democratic community saying, "The military is called apolitical, non-political, non-partisan because we follow orders not only from a single person or politician but from a set of people representing the government." Aying said the military continues to strengthen their force with the recruitment in the reserve force organization and hopes for the firmer implementation of the ROTC to the schools in order to strengthen the military capacity in serving the country which is a form of nationalism and patriotism. He added, "To serve the country is nationalism but to serve and die for the country is patriotism."

Aying said, with all the ruckus all these years, the military’s approach has changed dramatically into a more participative organization and engaged all possible stakeholders which was dubbed "whole of nation approach".

It then focused on programs, projects and activities directed to the betterment and or improving lives of the people and it was called the "people-centered approach".

Nowadays, the military is focused in protecting the people and the state. Aying claimed "We have changed ourselves; we have changed paradigm approach which is the Bayanihan approach." In Negros Occidental, he added, there are goals when it comes to security sector; the church is part of the security sector because it serves as the spiritual and moral compass of the soldiers, that is why there is the so called Church, Military and Police Advisory Group-Negros (CMPAG-N) because according to him, they want that in everything they do, it shall always be within their moral and spiritual values. He gained approval and respect from the crowd with a round of applause.

Aying explained the three (3) goals of the Brigade; 1) Render the armed struggle irrelevant, 2) Secure affected communities from lawlessness and disaster and 3) Mainstream affected communities towards nation-building.

Out of the goals mentioned, Aying said "you now see our role in the military; a Soldier is a Peace builder, a Protector and a Social Worker to help uplift the quality of living of the depressed communities in the Province."

"How do we achieve the 3 goals?" There are seven (7) programs, Aying stated, the Peace process/Peace building to establish the culture of peace, Security Sector Reform (SSR) Program, Focused military operations, Integrated Community Defense Public Safety (ICDPS) with the PNP and the local residents, Legal cooperation, Grassroots community development and Disaster Risk Reduction Management.

He further urged the people to gain strength together towards the good of everyone. Aying thanked the Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church for the morale it imparted in a one of a kind recognition for the soldiers. "Whatever happens, we always keep first priority to our service that is what we have sworn."

This event aimed at strengthening the relationship and collaboration of the people with the men-in-uniform.

Esscom investigating claims Malaysian financed Zamboanga City attack

From the Star Online (Oct 29): Esscom investigating claims Malaysian financed Zamboanga City attack

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian authorities are seeking more information on a claim that the Moro National Liberation Front's (MNLF) attack in Zamboanga City in September was supported by a financier in Malaysia.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) director-general Datuk Mohamad Mentek said he was aware about this development.

"We're gathering information on this matter," he told Bernama when contacted Tuesday.

The Philippine Star reported that the Philippine National Police were tracking down the financier of a Malaysian national who claimed that he received weekly disbursements from his benefactor in Malaysia to finance the attack.

It cited a Malaysian national as saying that the financier sent him US$20,000 (RM63,000) a week to support MNLF operations in Zamboanga City that started on Sept 9.

Meanwhile, former Malaysian ambassador to the Philippines Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad urged the Home Ministry to investigate the claim, describing it as a "serious security matter".

"I was surprised to read the report," he said when contacted.

According to the article, more than 400 MNLF members stormed Zamboanga City to seize city hall and raise the flag of an 'independent Bangsamoro Republik'.

The siege saw some 190 MNLF fighters killed after more than three weeks of fighting and 292 other suspects were either captured or surrendered.

Twenty-three soldiers and policemen were killed and 180 were wounded, while 12 civilians were killed, the online version of the daily said.

Two NPA rebels in Northern Samar trade guns for cash, livelihood assistance

From GMA News (Oct 29): Two NPA rebels in Northern Samar trade guns for cash, livelihood assistance

Two members of the New People's Army will receive P25,000 in cash and another P50,000 in livelihood assistance after they surrendered to the military in Northern Samar on October 27.

Ruel Sirse, an NPA squad member, and Melly Esponilla, a medic for the NPA, will receive the money under the Armed Forces of the Philippines Guns For Peace program. 

The military launched the Guns for Peace program in April as an incentive for rebels to turn themselves and their armaments in. Under the program, a light machine gun gets P200,000, M14 rifles net P60,000 each, and M16 rifles are worth P50,000 a piece.

The two surrendered to the 34th Infantry Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Ilustrisimo while the Army was conducting peace and development activities in Barangay Rizal in Gamay, Northern Samar. 

Cash incentives and a chance to raise a family away from harm and violence spurred the two, who are live-in partners, to seek out the AFP. Four high-ranking NPA leaders turned in their guns in July for similar reasons.

Sirse and Esponilla will also receive P15,000 in additional assistance from the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Peace Process. They may also apply to join the Local Social Integration Program of Northern Samar's local government unit.

"We welcome the surrender of the two NPA members and we wish them well. The [8th Infantry Division] fully supports and advocates the government’s peace program. Rest assured that your Army in Eastern Visayas is always ready and willing to assist NPA rebels who wish to return to the mainstream," Brigadier General Jet B. Velarmino, division commander, said.

The surrender of the two NPA rebels is in contrast with actions taken by their former comrades in recent weeks.

The NPA in Agusan del Sur has yet to release five of six people they abducted on October 25. They freed one hostage a day later and demanded the pull-out of government troops and the disarmament of local militia in Loreto town. Five of the hostages were candidates in the barangay elections held on Monday. 

According to the military, elections serve as a money-making machine for the rebels.

Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, Armed Force of the Philippines spokesperson, said on October 24 that the NPA collected “permits-to-campaign” fees from candidates in the barangay elections, a repeat of the racket run by the group in the May 2013 midterm elections, where they reportedly earned P26 million.

NPA member surrenders

From Tempo (Oct 29): NPA member surrenders

LAGAWE, Ifugao – A 22-year-old member of the New People’s Army (NPA) surrendered last week to government authorities due to the hardships he experienced while living with the insurgents.

Senior Supt. Angelito Casimiro, Ifugao provincial police director, said Babino Bantulay Mammay, aka Denver, a resident of Sitio Lagan, Cawayan, Asipulo, yielded to the government troops who were conducting a Comelec checkpoint at Sitio Bahag, Antipolo, Asipulo, last October 21.

Casimiro said Mammay immediately underwent a debriefing. He told the police that he decided to surrender because he could no longer bear the difficult life of being an outlaw.

“Mahirap maging NPA, walang direksyon ang buhay,” Casimiro quoted Mammay as saying.

China accuses Japan of interfering in naval drills

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 31): China accuses Japan of interfering in naval drills
China has accused Japan of interfering in its recent naval exercises and says it may take unspecified further action if the interference does not stop.

Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters Thursday that a Japanese navy ship entered the exercise area on Oct. 25 and stayed for three days. Yang said Japanese ships and aircraft lingered close by, conducting “high intensity” tracking and surveillance.

Yang said the Japanese actions constituted interference that threatened the safety of Chinese ships and aircraft, and could have resulted in accidents. He said China demands that Japan cease such provocations and reserves the right to take further action.

The drills are due to end Friday. They come amid continuing tensions over competing claims to an uninhabited island group in the East China Sea.

Philippine Army to add strength in 2014

From the Philippine Information Agency (Oct 31): Philippine Army to add strength in 2014

The Philippine Army in its determination to win the peace and not just defeat the enemy, will add their forces in 2014 according to 8th Infantry Division (8ID) Public Affairs Chief Captain Amado Gutierrez.

He said that throughout the country, some 19 to 20 thousand able bodied men will be recruited but he is not sure how many will be hired for the 8th ID.

Presently, the Philippine Army (PA) conducted a mobile recruitment in three areas in Eastern Visayas (EV) last weekend, some 917 applicants for Candidate Soldier (CS) and 15 applicants for officer tried their luck in an examination.

There were 636 examinees for CS at the 8th ID Camp Lucban, Maulong, Catbalogan City, 197 for CS and seven for officership in Leyte Colleges, Tacloban City while 84 for CS and eight for officership in Camp Downes, Ormoc City.

Gutierrez said that the usual quota for every division for additional strength is 150, but they are hoping that in 2014, more will be added.

The army official said that the army is really in need of additional strength since there is a big number of men going out than getting in.

“We will be recruiting next year to increase our strength,” said  Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel Lt Col Noel Vestuir (OG1).

Vestuir also congratulated newly promoted men of the division. Nine officers were promoted from 1LT to Captain, 384 enlisted personnel were promoted to MSG, TSG, SSG, SGT and CPL.

“Their promotion is a just and fitting recognition of their dedicated service and continuing commitment of serving the country and people in this part of the country.”

"Increase in the number of stripes means increase in base pay, and also increase in responsibility as Non Commissioned Officers" OG1 expressed.

35 rebels now part of mainstream society - 4th ID

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 31): 35 rebels now part of mainstream society - 4th ID

The Cagayan De Oro-based 4th Infantry Division on Thursday announced it has formally accepted the surrender of 35 former New People's Army (NPA) fighters and is busy integrating the latter back to society.

The surrendered rebels handed over 42 assorted firearms to military authorities.

For this, they received a total of P1,169,000 from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP).

The ceremony was graced by Eastern Mindanao Command Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz together with Gov. Adolf Edward Plaza of Agusan Del Sur, Gov. Yevgeny Vicente Emano of Misamis Oriental and PNP Director Manuel Barcelona, Director, Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Eastern Mindanao.

All the 35 were regular members of the NPA rebels operating in the hinter areas of Caraga and Region 10, composed of 17 individuals from Agusan Del Sur, six from Bukidnon, six from Surigao Del Sur, three from Surigao Del Norte, two from Agusan Del Norte and one from the province of Misamis Oriental.

“We in the 4th Infantry Division are very much happy to welcome our brothers and sisters who have finally decided to return to the folds of the law. We know that they have been led a life full of hardships they endured while they were still in the mountains fighting against their brother Filipinos. We are very thankful to them that they gave up their arms and wants to start living a normal life back to their loved ones and families,” 4th Infantry Division commander Brig. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, Commander, 4th Infantry Division said.

Nothern Luzon Command units alerted for 'Vinta'

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 31): Nothern Luzon Command units alerted for 'Vinta'

With Typhoon "Vinta" threatening most of extreme Northern Luzon, military units in the area have been placed in alert to deal with possible adverse effects the weather disturbance will cause.

Major Emmanuel Garcia, 1st Civil Relations Group commander, said that all disaster response and rescue units (DRRU) in the Northern Luzon Command have been alerted in case the need arises.

Aside from this, two disaster response teams (DRT) of Naval Forces Northern Luzon in Sta. Ana, Cagayan were placed on standby while another team is now at Office of Civil Defense Region 2 base in Tuguegarao, Cagayan for monitoring.

Garcia said that the 5th Infantry Division has tasked its line units and respective DRT to be ready for deployment.

"5th Infantry Division troops in coastal town of Maconacon and those near Divilacan Bay has shifted focus from election duty to disaster response operations (DRO) mode including CAFGU Active Auxillary, engineer units and civil military operations battalion troops currently constructing (a) school-building project with ABS-CBN Sagip Kapamilya in that area," he added.

While the 21st Infantry Battalion based in Alcala, Cagayan has deployed the following:

-one platoon as DRT and one military truck in Aparri;

-one company as DRRU and two military trucks in Sta. Teresita;

-on DRT in Ammulong; one DRT and two vehicles in Iguig; and one company as DRRU with seven vehicles in Alcala ready for dispatch anywhere in Cagayan.

Garcia added that the 41st infantry Battalion which is based in Abra has put its DRTs on standby.

Likewise, the 17th Infantry Battalion in Kalinga placed its DRTs on alert likewise, units in Apayao are now on standby for possible DROs.

Garcia added that civil-military operations company in Mt. Province is now alerted for DROs missions.

"The 7th Infantry Division has likewise put DRRUs of its line units directly on the typhoon track on alert status for DROs. The 81st Infantry Battalion in Ilocos Norte has activated its DRTs and are on standby. All other units in NOLCOM AOR not on the direct path of the typhoon has standby DRT to reinforce if need arise," he added.

Army soldiers deployed as augmentation force during polls back to mother units

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 31): Army soldiers deployed as augmentation force during polls back to mother units

Members of the 80th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army that served as augmentation force of the Army and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Masbate during the barangay elections have been flown back to Camp Aguinaldo Friday via a C-130 cargo plane.

The soldiers were part of the 3,500-man contingent deployed by the military in the strategic areas in Bicol during the elections, the conduct of which was generally peaceful, according to Brig. Gen. Felix J. Castro Jr., 9th Infantry Division assistant unit commander and Task Force Bicol commander Camp Elias Angeles, San Jose, Pili, Camarines Sur.

Castro said the soldiers were distributed among the three brigades of the 9ID in the six provinces of the region.

The Philippine Army soldiers were the partners of the police officers in manning checkpoints put up in important areas in the region.

The deployed Army soldiers have already returned to their respective units after the Commission on Elections had declared the winners in the elections, Castro added.

Palawan Naval Forces West reaches out to less fortunate children

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 31): Palawan Naval Forces West reaches out to less fortunate children

The Naval Forces West’s (NFW) sailors and marines spent their weekend with 23 orphans and neglected children under the care of Bantay Bata Group Home in Barangay San Pedro, Puerto Princesa City. The activity is in line with NFW’s community outreach program.

The team gave free medical and dental check-ups to these less fortunate children, as well as slippers and oral hygiene kits.

The children were also treated with a sumptuous lunch. Also present to cheer the children were Maj. Manolo Mendez, NFW Chaplain, along with dependents of NFW personnel.

Arlene Panes, the City Social Development Worker was very thankful to NFW for its laudable deeds.

“It really made these less fortunate children happy today. NFW is very close to us,” Panes added.

Bantay Bata Group Home is a child care organization under the Social Welfare Development office of Puerto Princesa City that helps children in need of special protection, children in conflict with the law, children from abused homes and children rescued from the streets of the City.

Last year, NFW donated to Bantay Bata Group Home the amount of P31,000.00 from the proceeds of its Inter-Gun Club Funshoot.

PH pushes arbitration of dispute with China before UN envoys

From InterAksyon (Oct 31): PH pushes arbitration of dispute with China before UN envoys

Paul Reichler and Ambassador Libran Cabactulan at a forum in New York where the Philippines pressed the need for maritime arbitration of its territorial disputes with China. (photo from DFA)

The Philippines reiterated its call in the United Nations for the peaceful resolution of its territorial disputes with China through maritime arbitration based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

At a forum in New York with UN diplomats and legal advisers of various foreign affairs ministries, the Philippines’ lead counsel in the arbitration case, Paul Reichler, stressed the importance of the process, which he said, “gives politically, economically or militarily weaker countries “the rare opportunity to hope, through peaceful settlement and the rule of law, for equal treatment with stronger countries,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Over the last three years, tensions have been rising in disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea, also known as the South China Sea, over increasingly aggressive Chinese intrusion and posturing.

China insists on its territorial claim over the whole body of water, a strategic shipping lane that is also believed to lie on top of vast mineral and gas resources.

Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, the Philippines’ permanent representative to the UN, stressed that the UNCLOS, “our constitution for the oceans, is becoming more relevant than ever before, particularly for developing countries which are poised to explore and exploit their own exclusive economic zone, their own continental shelf, and even the deep seabed, for their development.”

Reichler, a noted international lawyer, has “extensive experience representing sovereign countries before the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, among others,” Cabactulan said.

He represented Nicaragua in the landmark 1986 ICJ case in which the World Court ruled that the US had illegally used force, in violation of the UN Charter, against the Sandinista government.

At the forum, Reichler gave an overview of UNCLOS’ compulsory arbitration process, interpreting issues of choice of procedure and jurisdiction through illustrative cases he previously worked on as counsel for sovereign states.