Monday, December 2, 2013

Army’s 48IB clashes with NPA remnants in Bulacan

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 2): Army’s 48IB clashes with NPA remnants in Bulacan

CAMP AQUINO, Tarlac City -- The 48th Infantry Battalion (48IB) of the Philippine Army on Saturday clashed with remnants of Platoon Sierra Madre of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sitio Maputi, Barangay Camachin, Dona Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan.

“Led by 2LT. Edwin Lauro, 48IB had a 30-minute exchange of fire with around 25 NPA remnants. There were neither casualties nor injuries on the government side while a number of the insurgents were badly wounded. Pursuit operations is still on-going,” Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) Chief Information Officer Captain Gina Daet disclosed.

The troops were able to recover one M14 rifle, one laptop, one portable DVD, one cellular phone, one transistor radio, one sack of rice, one sack of canned sardines, two back packs, and a volume of subversive documents.

“We will not allow these armed groups to continue their illegal activities in collecting foods from less fortunate… we will assure to the residents that our forces will provide enough security,” NOLCOM Commander Lieutenant General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said.

On Jamalul Kiram III, Nur Misuari and colonial mentality

Posted to Rappler (Dec 1): On Jamalul Kiram III, Nur Misuari and colonial mentality

The death of Jamalul Kiram III, the most public claimant to the Sultanate of Sulu on October 20, the raid in his name on Sabah, Malaysia in February, and the Zamboanga raid by Nur Misuari’s men in September served as painful reminders, to Filipinos, of a long-lingering colonial legacy.

But this legacy is not that which you usually hear about Mindanao. I am not referring to the narrative that describes an age-old "struggle" against colonialism that the Filipinos of the Visayas and Luzon lost, and those of Mindanao sustained.
Perhaps a deeper and more resonating legacy, that also affects the modern manifestation of conflict in the southern Philippines, is the very way Filipinos think about their nation.

We sometimes forget that, although sophisticated societies had existed in the Philippines for over a thousand years before, the ideas about Filipino identity and the delimitations of the nation, physical and conceptual, are only just over a hundred years old.

Often, our concept of "colonial mentality" is reduced to either liking or disliking products or ideas. If we like foreign clothes, music, products, we have colonial mentality. If we patronize and celebrate the local, we are nationalistic. It certainly is not, however, as simple as that. How we have imagine ourselves as Filipinos is part of this colonial mentality. Assumptions we make about what a nation and Filipinos should be like, are a product of the period we spent under Spanish and American rule.

Misuari and Kiram have recently reminded us of how colonial that mentality about our nation can sometimes be.

Sidelined by colonizers

Prior to the arrival of Spain, the Philippines was part of an incredibly cosmopolitan, mobile, Malay world that saw the foreign and the local blend constantly together as Southeast Asia became a vast commercial zone in the first half of the previous millennium. The borders of the nations of Southeast Asia, including that of the Philippines, were the product of the agreements between European empires that began arriving in the 16th century in an effort to stabilize each others’ territorial ambitions.

Caught on the frontiers of these colonial states were societies like that of Sulu, Aceh and Makassar in Indonesia, the Karin in Burma, the Pattani Muslims in Thailand and the Cham in Vietnam. During the 20th century, these colonial territories were transformed by independence into the nation states we know today. The borderland communities above presented an awkward, anomalous situation to those states in the process of conceiving of and defining new nations.
The formation of a nation state, as articulated by Ben Anderson over 30 years ago in his seminal Imagined Communities, is in essence an act of creativity. It can re-contextualize the past and peoples into something politically relevant and meaningful to the nascent state, to unify and homogenize. For Filipino society and others around Southeast Asia colonized by outsiders, that re-contextualization had to factor in the perceptions and prejudices held by their rulers. As Edward Said pointed out in his discussion on Orientalism, colonizers would often define their own identities against those of their colonial subjects, where their ‘primitiveness’ helped emphasize western ‘civilization’ and ‘modernity’.

In the Philippines, by the time the Americans arrived, they found what seemed to their 19th century understanding of social evolution, a hierarchy of civilizations. While they would place themselves at the ultimate end of the path to modernity, serving to justify their rule, all Filipinos in Luzon, the Visayas, Mindanao and Sulu, were not yet "intelligent" enough to run things themselves.

For the Americans, Jose Rizal, educated in Spain and well-versed in the concept of the nation states and modern nationalism, and other ilustrados, were closer to modernity than the Moros. Moros, while exhibiting what Americans thought were raw qualities which brought success to their own pioneers hundreds of years prior, were nonetheless at a stage of social ‘evolution’ behind that of the north, requiring so much more guidance that they had to be separated from the rest of the Philippines and monitored under the Moro Province, under a military regime.

This is all despite the fact that Filipino politicians in the north were already being elected and running things at a local level for the Spaniards for almost 50 years, and that societies in Butuan and Sulu had thrived for hundreds of years before the United States had even begun to be settled by Europeans.

Emphasizing Filipino backwardness helped justify to anti-imperialists in the US, the most famous of whom was Mark Twain, that the subjugation of Filipinos was a noble endeavor. That developing the Filipino, making him and her ‘better’ or "more Western" was a manifestation of the benevolent mission of the United States. The building of the Philippine nation as we know it today happened under these conceptualization. Our collective amnesia of the societies that were in Sulu, Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon before the arrival of the Spaniards, as well as the notions of our relative positioning vis-a-vis the path to modernity are legacies of this colonial framework. The bifurcation of the nation between "Filipino" and "Moro" begun under Spain, and was institutionalized under the US.

Like America, like Manila

It is old hat, however, to keep pointing the finger at Spain and America. Filipinos, from the north as well as from Mindanao and Sulu, bought into the colonizers’ mentality, and kept it going long after they left. Many of us still think in these terms. If the Philippines were more like America, it would be better. If Mindanao were more like Manila, it would be better.

Moros, just like other borderland communities in Southeast Asia, were reduced by the homogenizing impulses of national identity building into an anomaly that had to change to fit into the concept of a modern nation state with fixed borders and common language, history and culture.

Naturally, Muslim Filipinos, like the Tausug of Sulu, took exception to this ‘need to be more like us’ pressure and led by men like Misuari, rebelled, leading to almost half a century of conflict. While more recently a greater recognition of the diversity of the Philippines has been growing and epitomized in gestures such as the celebration of Islamic holidays and reference to Moros as ‘our Muslim brothers and sisters’ in official press releases, the lingering effects of that division persist.

Misuari and Kiram, on the surface, seem to represent opposite poles in how this duality has plagued the Philippines. Kiram’s family, to historians, represents the ultimate buy-in to the nation (albeit out of an impulse to survive in the new American order).

Jamalul Kiram III is the direct descendant of Jamalul Kiram II, the Sultan absorbed into the new American colonial state in 1899, then divested of all his temporal powers in 1915. His grand-nephew, Jamalul Kiram III, was one of six current claimants to the Sultanate. But via his raid on Malaysia last February to reclaim Sabah, a part of Sulu his ancestor, Jamalul Azam, leased to the British North Borneo Company in 1878, Kiram III became the Sultan of Sulu in public consciousness. While the raid on Sabah was based on his family’s historical claim, the rhetoric from him, his articulate daughter Jacel and wife Celia used emphasized that it was Filipinos in general that had a right to that territory.

Misuari, on the other hand, is the irreconcilable rebel and Moro Nationalist who had declared independence from "Filipino colonizers" again last year. A former lecturer at the University of the Philippines, Misuari was spurred into action by dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ execution of Tausug operatives in 1968, who were being trained for the invasion of Sabah. He led the armed Moro National Liberation Front, an ultra-nationalist grouping of Muslim-Filipino students and youth in a war of secession with Manila until a 1996 peace agreement that won him and Fidel Ramos, then President, the Ramon Magsaysay Peace award. After serving as chairman of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, he was gradually sidelined as a new group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, stole the headlines, waged war, and brokered a peace agreement just in October, 2012. Frustrated by the prospect of history passing him by, the raid on Zamboanga on September 9, 2013, sought to pre-empt his eventual marginalization by the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and assert his relevance to the Moro nationalist movement.

But what is common in both is their chronic sense of marginalization to the point of paranoia. Kiram recently complained in an interview with this author in November 2012, of being left out of peace discussions that had concluded the month before.

Misuari is also generally known to have taken exception to his gradual sidelining in the negotiations for a new Bangsamoro autonomous entity to emerge out of the 2012 peace deal.

Both men were desperate to stay relevant and as many desperate leaders have done throughout history, took to arms and wrested the nation’s attention onto themselves. While they indeed are only two men, and while acts of violence to achieve political ends can never, in this 21st century world, be condonable, they also signify the fear and distrust lingering between their people and the rest of the Philippines.

While sick of war, death and suffering, being considered and treated marginal for close to a century by the state has nonetheless affected the faith the Tausug and other Moros have in a social and political framework that has sought for decades to change them fundamentally. This distrust has led many like Misuari and Kiram to feel that no other option remained but to take control of their situations through the force of arms.

Actions that ironically, reinforce the prejudices and distrust of Moros amongst the Filipinos of Luzon and the Visayas. This, perhaps, is the most critical of colonial mentalities left as a legacy of Spanish and American rule.

While the desire for foreign goods and products is often the focus of vitriol about the ‘colonial mentality’, the perceptions that evolved out of colonial taxonomies of Filipinos has institutionalized a mutual distrust that has led a persistent cycle of violence in Mindanao and Sulu. Ultimately it is up to Filipinos to decide which deserves more attention. So far it seems to have been the former.

[Cesar Suva is a teaching fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.]

MILF: Mindanao CSO’s kick-off Community Consultations on Bangsamoro Basic Law

From the MILF Website (Dec 3): Mindanao CSO’s kick-off Community Consultations on Bangsamoro Basic Law

In support to the public engagements being undertaken by civil society organization in relation to the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the Federation of Matigsalug and Manobo Tribal Council in partnership with the Moro-IP Kinship Council convened last November 24 the tribal leaders from Bukidnon, Davao and Cotabato at the ancestral domain territory of the Matigsalug tribe in Lorega, Bukidnon. 
Dubbed as “Samaya” or thanksgiving ritual, the indigenous and Bangsamoro leaders stressed the need for the native inhabitants of Mindanao to unite and reaffirm their brotherhood in order to defeat external moves to divide them and their leaders.

The purpose of the consultation was to share information and provide fresh updates on the progress of the GPH-MILF Peace Talks especially on the drafting of the Basic Law which welcome proposals and recommendations from indigenous peoples. 

Jose “Bapa Joe” Akmad, from North Cotabato stressed that reaffirmation of the kinship between the Moros and IP’s is crucial and very important so as to prevent a repeat of the MOA-AD controversy wherein Moros and IPs were pitted against each other in order advance economic and political agenda of politicians and external actors.  “We are not enemies here, we are brothers. Whoever attempt to break or destroy our kinship with our indigenous brothers and sisters will be cursed by Almighty Allah because breaking the tie is absolutely immoral.” he added.

In his speech delivered during the program, Datu Vic Saway of the Talaandig tribe said “we should not be afraid of the Bangsamoro.  The peace agreement is a product of their struggle and we should support them”.  “That is the essence of brotherhood.  In our culture, it is our belief is that “Kung kinsa man ang makaguba sa gisabutan pag igsuunay tali sa Bangsamoro ug Lumad gabaan, mudako ug mubuto ang tiyan.” (Whoever violates the traditional agreement will be cursed; his stomach will turn big and explode), Saway said

Datu Moreno on the other hand appealed to the Moro kins to support the bid of the Matigsalug tribe for the establishment of a Matigsalug municipality in the province of Bukidnon.  “The Matigsalug municipality will realize our vision for self-governance and right to self-determination within our ancestral domain”, Datu Moreno explained.

Commissioner Timuay Melanio Ulama, from the Bangsamoro Transition Commission gave a brief background about the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the transition roadmap which at this point seeks inputs from the stakeholders on proposals and recommendations for the Basic Law.  “In the Transition Commission, there are two indigenous leaders representing the IPs.  Do not be afraid of the Bangsamoro.  We all have a place in this future government and as a commissioner my main job will be to ensure that the rights of the IPs will be protected in the spirit of the Moro-IP kinship.

These series of community consultations were facilitated by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus through the Mindanao CSO Platform for Peace which recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission for the conduct of massive public engagements and consultations.  Pastor Reu Montecillo announced that “simultaneous consultations will be conducted between now and the months of December and January 2014 in order to inform, educate and consult the communities regarding the contents of the Basic Law so that we can address their expectations, concerns, fears and hopes for the future”.

Commissioner Salem Demuna from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) acknowledged the contribution of the IPs in the resistance struggle of the Moros against foreign invaders.  “The IPs fought alongside with the Moros for freedom.” he said.

In attendance were guests from the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGOs, Initiatives for International Dialogue, Mindanao Alliance for Peace and Development, United Youth for Peace and Development, Bantay Ceasefire, Panagtagbo Mindanao, Maranao Peoples Development Center, Lanao Peace Partnership, Tr-ipeople Commission, Balay Rehabilitation Center, Bangsamoro Center for Just Peace and guests from Jesuit Relief Services and Misereor.’s-kick-off-community-consultations-on-bangsamoro-basic-law

MILF: JICA, BTC officials sign Minutes of Meeting for the Comprehensive Capacity Development Project for the Bangsamoro

From the MILF Website (Dec 2): JICA, BTC officials sign Minutes of Meeting for the Comprehensive Capacity Development Project for the Bangsamoro

Following the historic signing of Records of Discussion for the Comprehensive Capacity Development Project for the Bangsamoro between Japan International Cooperation Agency Chief Representative Mr. Takahiro Sasaki and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission Chairman Mohagher Iqbal last July 25 at Al Nor Convention Center, JICA Headquarters in Tokyo dispatched a Mission headed by Mr. Naoyuki Ochiai, the Senior Advisor to the Director General of the Economic Infrastructure Department, from 20th to 30th of this month to consult the stakeholders of the future Bangsamoro government for the full implementation of the new project.
The outcome of the Mission’s series of consultation with the officials of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, Bangsamoro Development Agency, Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao were the details of the Work Plan of the Project which supports the vital activities in the setting up of institutions, organizations, policies, and plans during and after the transition period (2014 to 2016) for the establishment of the new Bangsamoro government in 2016.

The Minutes was signed between the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission for the Comprehensive Capacity Development Project for the Bangsamoro was signed by the Team Leader of JICA Mission, Mr. Naoyuki Ochiai and the Chairman of the BTC, Mr. Mohagher Iqbal in the Golden Lace Restaurant last November 28.    

The signing were witnessed by the Director of the Socio-Economic Office of the BTC Mr. Mohajirin Ali, MILF Peace Panel members Atty. Michael Mastura and Datu Antonio Kinoc, JICA Philippine Office Senior Advisor for Mindanao Mr. Juro Chikaraishi, and the Chief Advisor of the CCDP for Bangsamoro Mr. Shinichi Masuda.

During the event, Mr. Ochiai once again expressed the sincere commitment of the Japanese Government through JICA their full support to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in its tasks to formulate the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the significant steps towards the establishment of the new Bangsamoro political entity. He also added that someday he wish to come back to Mindanao as a guest of the new Bangsamoro political entity.

The BTC Chairman Mohagher Iqbal extends his gratitude to Japanese Government as well as to JICA for their unwavering support to the Bangsamoro people and the establishment of its own Government. He assured the Japanese government and its people through the JICA Mission that the MILF and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission will cooperate for the success of these endeavor.

Mr. Ochiai was joined by his colleagues from Headquarters namely, Mr. Yuko Dohi, Ms. Tomoko Shimada, Ms. Tomoko Fujikawa, Mr. Hiroaki Nakatsubo and JICA Philippine Office Program Officer Ms. Cristina Santiago together with the Japanese member to the International Monitoring Team – Mindanao Mr. Takayuki Nakagawa during the course of the Mission’s visit.

MILF: MILF 106th Base Command acts as buffer in Lambayong conflict

From the MILF Website (Dec 2): MILF 106th Base Command acts as buffer in Lambayong conflict


The 106th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of Moro Islamic Liberation Front acts as buffer between two warring groups in Lambayong town, Sultan Kudarat Province effective November 18.

In an official communication dated November 24, 2013 sent by Abbad Salung, Chairman of the MILF-CCCH to BGen. Cesar Dionision Sedillo, Jr., Chairman of the GRP-CCCH, he informed the latter of placing forty (40) members of the base command at Barangay Punol, Municipality of Lambayong to act as buffer in order to abate the worsening and escalation of the conflict between Mauyag Tungkay, former Vice Mayor of Lambayong and Guevarra Sanday, a commander of the 106th Base Command.
The decision was well-coordinated with local army units in the area and other concerned authorities. Under the arrangement the MILF-CCCH and concerned government troops, the local Philippine Army is stationed at Udtong.

Chairman Salung said that in the past couple of months, two incidents of bloody skirmishes took place at Barangay Udtong in said municipality due to local politics and family misunderstanding and disputes over some claims. He also said that the conflict had severely affected and displaced individuals and families and the local peace and order situation in the area. Those that evacuated are hesitant to go back to their homes due to fear from being caught in the crossfire. Barangay Punol shares border with Barangay Udtong.

That arrangement resulted to the return of stability in the area and stoppage to the firefight between the two parties. Chairman Salung pointed out that the understanding of the 106th Base Command and the concerned Army units for the BIAF Buffer Forces is to refrain from displaying publicly and blatantly their firearms.

Since the buffer was put-up, a relieve-in-place had been undertaken every 5 days. Currently, Chairman Salung further said that the circumstances and root cause of the conflict are now being investigated by the MILF leadership in order to find out what can be best done to resolve the feud.

Yolanda aid diversion? US military rations sold in Makati mall

From GMA News (Dec 2): Yolanda aid diversion? US military rations sold in Makati mall

US military Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) are reportedly being sold at a mall in Makati even though they are clearly stamped with warnings that doing so is illegal.
According to a report on "24 Oras", photos of the MREs have appeared on Facebook, fueling speculation that they were relief goods that the US military brought over for Yolanda survivors. 
Grace Alvarez, who bought MREs and posted photos on Facebook, told GMA News reporter Tina Panganiban-Perez that they were supposedly sold to the store by an unnamed general. 
"I asked, saan ito galing? And then, sabi, naiwan po ng mga Amerikano, ipinagbili raw ng isang heneral. It was not expressly said na galing sa Yolanda o na relief goods siya," she said.
The MREs did not come from the annual military exercises between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and US troops either, the AFP said.
It added US troops are not allowed to leave their MREs with Filipino soldiers.
"It's wrong to say na ito ay galing sa Balikatan Exercises at iniwan nila at ibinigay sa atin. The right people to probably look into this would be the Department of Trade and Industry or the US government," Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office said.

According to the report, the MREs sell for P220 each and come in different flavors.
When asked where the MREs were from, staff at the store refused to comment.

Although they are clearly labelled "US Government Property. Commercial Resale is Unlawful", a 2006 investigation by the US Government Accountability Office found they were being sold on online auction sites.
Members of the US military caught selling MREs face sanctions, though, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Aussies bring aid to Cebu islands

From the Sun Star (Dec 3): Aussies bring aid to Cebu islands

The Australian Defense Force (ADF) will distribute relief goods to the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in Bantayan Island and Camotes Island, Cebu beginning today (Tuesday) under “Operation Philippines Assist.”

The Government of Australia, through ADF, deployed HMAS Tobruk, an amphibious ship, to assist in relief and recovery operations in areas severely affected by the typhoon, including Northern Cebu.

The vessel arrived in the Cebu port on Monday carrying 110 tons of disaster relief goods and shelter kits from the United Nations Humanitarian Center for Relief. Aside from foreign donations, there were also relief goods from local civil society groups.

In a press conference at the Cebu port's Berth 6, HMAS Tobruk Commanding Officer Leif Maxfield said that it would take three to four days to distribute the goods because they have to stop at every islet and island in Bantayan and Camotes.

“Australia and the Philippines are friends, and in crisis situation like this, the Government of Australia will always help,” Maxfield said.

He said they coordinated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for the relief mission and for the initial recovery operations for the typhoon survivors in Ormoc City.


The AFP is tasked with the transport of humanitarian aid in typhoon affected areas in the Visayas using its C-130 aircraft and sea vessels of the Philippine Navy.

HMAS Tobruk, with 167 officers and crew on board, arrived last November 26 and has been operating in Ormoc City. It has heavy-lift capabilities and supports helicopter and landing craft operations.

It has an MRH 90 helicopter that can transport personnel and cargo.

Meanwhile, Kerwin Macopia of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-Central Visayas said Secretary Dinky Soliman has not ordered the closure of repacking centers in Cebu, contrary to an announcement on the government agency’s website.

Macopia said that was closed two weeks ago was the repacking center at the parking lot of the DSWD-Central Visayas office to decongest the area.

Macopia said that at present, DSWD-Central Visayas has four repacking centers: AVRC in Barangay Labangon; the Reception Children's Center at Gen. Maxilom Avenue; Cebu International Convention Center; and the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base gym.

Operation Damayan and a forward-looking PH-US Alliance

Posted to Rappler (Dec 2): Operation Damayan and a forward-looking PH-US Alliance
( Justin Goldman and Ava Patricia C. Avila)

FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. U.S. Marine Capt. Joseph White (L) and Philippine army Pfc. Vic D. Victorlano (R) carry USAID relief supplies from an MV-22 Osprey in Basey, Samar, Philippines, Nov. 18, 2013. Photo by the US Department of Defense/US Marine Corps Capt. Caleb Eames

FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. U.S. Marine Capt. Joseph White (L) and Philippine army Pfc. Vic D. Victorlano (R) carry USAID relief supplies from an MV-22 Osprey in Basey, Samar, Philippines, Nov. 18, 2013. Photo by the US Department of Defense/US Marine Corps Capt. Caleb Eames

The immediate aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) has resulted in a flurry of activity to provide relief of the suffering of longtime US ally, the Philippines. This occurs at a complicated time in a region filled with tension emanating from territorial disputes, many of which are centered on contested claims with China, including Beijing’s recent announcement of their Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea. However, China remains an important economic partner for countries with whom it has disputes, including the Philippines.

This tension has led several regional countries to call for an increased US military presence, but the sustainability of that US presence has been questioned. The extensive deployment of US forces for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in support of a vulnerable ally that lies within the aptly named “ring for fire” sends an important signal that the US remains able to respond to contingencies.

Rapid Response

As typhoon Haiyan sped through the Philippines, US Marines deployed the next day providing important relief capabilities. The initial contingent of US forces provided essential assessment as the intensity of the typhoon severed key lines of communication. P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft flew from Japan and began operating out of Clark International Airport in Luzon on November 11. Airborne crews relayed the most current information so efforts could be launched to respond to those who were stranded without food, clean water, and in need of medical care. US forces work closely with USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance coordinating efforts and working with the Philippine government to address those most in need. While confronted with one of the largest disasters the country has ever faced, the Philippine government has provided quick clearance for US aircraft, ships, and personnel, enabling the rapid delivery of assistance to affected areas.
By November 13, Marine Corps C-130 aircraft were operating out of the airport in Tacloban, which was at the center of the typhoon, supporting two Philippine Air Force C-130s that had arrived the day prior carrying out around-the-clock relief operations. While access to the airfield was a challenge in the initial days, soon aid was flowing in and displaced civilians were being evacuated out. The US Pacific Fleet ordered the activation of the hospital ship USNS Mercy on November 13, which has experience working closely with Philippine authorities based on past deployments. A week later, the amphibious ships USS Germantown and USS Ashland reached the vicinity of Tacloban to take the lead for relief operations from the aircraft carrier. They arrived with approximately 900 Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit from Okinawa that brings with it heavy engineering equipment – dump trucks, bulldozers, and forklifts – to clear debris currently inhibiting response efforts. The amphibious ships employ multiple landing craft that can transport assets ashore including water tanks to address the ongoing demand for potable water.

The rapid response from forward deployed forces that has been demonstrated in Operation Damayan validates guidance in the 2010 Naval Operations Concept, which states that “globally-distributed and regionally-concentrated naval forces are ideally suited for humanitarian assistance and disaster response.” US forces have learned tremendous lessons from responding to disasters in recent years, including Operation Unified Assistance after the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 where expeditionary forces often characterized by offensive military roles provided tremendous “soft power.”

During a time of reduced defense spending and concerns about the sustainability of the US regional presence, the message from the actions of US forces during a time of crisis is received much clearer than any statements made from Washington.

Message Sending Presence

Just as the USS Abraham Lincoln responded during Operation Unified Assistance, the deployment of the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group conveyed the critical political will to come to the aid of an ally. In the weeks prior to Typhoon Haiyan, US Navy officials were explaining the effects of reductions in defense spending and how this would force the cancellation of critical deployments and reduce readiness.

President Obama had utilized his address to the United Nations during the General Assembly in late September to explain the US approach to issues in the Middle East from the ongoing civil war in Syria to the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program. These realities combined with the cancellation of a trip to the region to visit Manila and attend two key regional summits, heightened the sense of concern over US staying power in the Asia-Pacific.

However, when the hour of need arrived, the Carrier Strike Group brought critical assets to bear such as its 21 helicopters that provide essential lift to transport emergency supplies. The image of a US aircraft carrier, particularly the USS George Washington as a mainstay in the region with its home port in Japan, conveys a persistent US presence. The large-scale response from the US comes shortly after Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin announced that talks for an increased rotational presence of US forces and greater access to Philippine facilities had reached an “impasse” after their fourth round concluded in October. Just as the humanitarian response in Indonesia enhanced the standing of the US following relief operations in 2004, the next round of talks will be one measure to gauge the impact of US relief operations on policymakers in Manila.

AID DELIVERY. U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Deanna Coutts (C) loads a bag of supplies onto an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter to be airlifted to nearby villages in support of Operation Damayan in Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 20, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Trevor Welsh

AID DELIVERY. U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Deanna Coutts (C) loads a bag of supplies onto an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter to be airlifted to nearby villages in support of Operation Damayan in Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 20, 2013. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Trevor Welsh

Regional Dynamics

During a June 2013 visit of Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to Manila, Secretary Gazmin explained the Philippines willingness to offer expanded access to its facilities for Japan, similar to what it is pursuing with the US. In September, the Philippine Navy sent the first contingent to train in Australia under the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement that was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 2012. The long-term US objective to network its Asian allies was also demonstrated in Operation Damayan. The strong reactions from Australia and Japan to Typhoon Haiyan are evidence of a growing trend.

The response to the 2004 tsunami showed the utility of integrating a diverse coalition during Operation Unified Assistance, which relied significantly on Australia and Japan. Three days after the tsunami struck an Australian C-130 landed at Banda Aceh airfield with medical and relief supplies, with a field hospital following shortly, and an amphibious ship arriving in early January 2005 with engineering assets and personnel.

Japan responded to an Indonesian request for assistance by deploying C-130s and three naval vessels. Japanese vehicles that came ashore were of particular value as local authorities cited their clearing of roads as essential to reestablishing the road link between Banda Aceh and southwestern districts that sustained heavy damage.

 Following the 2011 triple disaster in Fukushima, Australian C-17 transport aircraft were on station within days providing critical heavy lift in support of the Government of Japan, reinforcing the pattern of cooperation on disaster relief.

Just days after the typhoon struck, Australia deployed a C-130 and a C-17 to transport a medical team with 25 tons of emergency and medical supplies that established a field hospital at Tacloban Airport, filling an urgent requirement as the city’s main hospital was without power or water. The deployment of the HMAS Tobruk, a roll-on/roll-off heavy lift transport vessel, followed from Townsville, Australia en route to the Philippines. As HMAS Tobruk got underway, a Japan Self-Defense Force (SDF) C-130 transport aircraft landed in Roxas City delivering critical food supplies to Capiz province. Its deployment of 1,180 SDF personnel along with key naval platforms including the JDS Ise destroyer and the amphibious ship JDS Osumi marks Japan’s largest international disaster relief mission to date.
After ample criticism for its very meager aid and slow response, Beijing confirmed the deployment of its 14,000-ton hospital ship “Peace Ark” to support relief operations. Its lackluster response will do little to reassure neighboring countries worried about a more assertive China in regional and global affairs. While some Southeast Asian countries provided limited assistance to the Philippines, the rapid and extensive responses from the US and its allies serves to highlight the shortcomings in ASEAN by calling into question the capacity of the regional bloc, despite the heavy emphasis placed on disaster relief and humanitarian assistance over the past decade.

While initial intent is rightly focused on meeting the needs of those suffering from the effects of Typhoon Haiyan, the broader implications are clear. The scale of the response effort by the US and its allies directly counters the narrative of a budget-constrained US unable to uphold its commitments in the Asia-Pacific. As the Philippines remains vulnerable to natural disasters, it is important to conclude the talks for an expanded regional presence, as this effort will enhance the Armed Forces of the Philippines ability to deal with territorial threats and respond to natural disasters.

Enhanced interoperability will allow the US to provide a more effective response during future disaster relief operations. The strong support from Australia and Japan bodes well as both countries have reaffirmed their engagement with the Philippines and responded in a time of duress. With the challenge of security in regional waters showing no signs of abating, this level of cooperation is encouraging for Manila and Washington looking ahead.

[Justin Goldman is an Associate Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University and Ava Patricia C. Avila is a PhD Student at Cranfield University.]

DND: No consensus yet on P18.9-B fighter jets' purchase

From the Philippine Star (Dec 2): DND: No consensus yet on P18.9-B fighter jets' purchase

The Philippines and South Korean firm Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) are still hurdling issues related to the military’s plan to buy 12 lead in fighter trainer jets worth P18.9-billion.

Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo admitted on Monday that they have yet to reach consensus on some issues including the down payment to be given to the supplier and the period of delivery of spare parts.

“The lead in fighter (project) is within the process of negotiation with the government of South Korea and there are major issues, there are several issues that we still have to hurdle,” Manalo said in a press conference.

Among the issues to be threshed out is the advance payment to be given to KAI.

Manalo said the law allows state agencies to pay a 15 percent down payment while the rest of the amount would be paid upon the delivery of goods.

KAI wants the Philippines to pay a 52 percent down payment but Manalo said this would require the approval of President Aquino.

“The approval of a down payment that is more than 15 percent does not rest on the BAC (Bids and Awards Committee). It will be up to the president,” Manalo said.

“Even if we consider their request on the terms of payment and more progressive billing, we cannot do it. We can only recommend to the president,” he added.

Another issue being threshed out is the turnaround time, the period required for the delivery of the jets’ spare parts under a two-year warranty.

Manalo said the turnaround time usually lasts for 30 to 45 days but KAI wants it prolonged to 180 days.

When asked whether he is still optimistic that the issues surrounding the project will be resolved, Manalo said: “This project should push through but we cannot continue without looking at it and ensuring that aircraft we will buy won’t be left unused without the spare parts.”

Manalo said they would decide whether to push through with a deal with KAI within the year.

“We are already preparing our firm position and then we are going to submit it to KAI for them to determine whether that is acceptable. We cannot just let it hang for a long time. We will immediately resolve the issue,” he said.

The government plans to acquire 12 FA-50 jets from South Korea to boost the territorial defense capabilities of the Air Force. The negotiations with KAI started last July.

Earlier, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino dela Cruz said two FA-50 jets could be delivered by the end of 2014 if all the contracts and other necessary documents are signed this year.

The acquisition of FA-50 jets is one of the big ticket items in the military’s multi-billion upgrade program.

 A total of P85.29-billion is needed to bankroll the program for the next four years, Defense department data showed.

Other items to be acquired were Navy frigates, ammunitions, rocket launchers, handheld radios, long range patrol aircraft, amphibious assault vehicles, anti-submarine helicopter, aerial radars, engineering equipment and base support facilities.

Manalo said the government is also planning to spend P6.5-billion to buy a shore-based missile system but declined to say where it will be located.

DND exec denies anomaly in P1.76-B force protection equipment's bidding

From the Philippine Star (Dec 2): DND exec denies anomaly in P1.76-B force protection equipment's bidding

The Department of National Defense (DND) on Monday denied allegations of anomalies in the bidding for the supply of more than 44,000 sets of force protection equipment worth P1.76-billion.

Defense Assistant Secretary Efren Fernandez maintained that the decision to disqualify the lowest bidder, South Korean firm Kolon Global Corp., is justified since the company failed to meet some requirements.

DND-BAC (Department of National - Defense Bids and Awards Committee) laments the move of some quarters that to discredit (it) for post-disqualifying Kolon Global Corp.,” Fernandez, who heads the BAC, said in a press conference.

“BAC’s decision is based purely on what is provided for under Republic Act 9184, he added, referring to the procurement law.

Kolon offered to supply 44,080 sets of force protection equipment for P894 million, lower by almost P870,000 than the P1.763 billion approved budget for the project. Kolon’s offer was also cheaper than those offered by three other bidders.

A DND post-qualification team, however, declared that Kolon’s goods did not meet some standards aimed at ensuring the protection of soldiers in the field.

Chinese ambassador to Phl: Beijing has right to set another air zone

From the Philippine Star (Dec 2): Chinese ambassador to Phl: Beijing has right to set another air zone

China has a sovereign right to establish a maritime air defense zone over another region as it did in the East China Sea, the Chinese envoy to the Philippines said Monday.

The United States and key Asian allies have not honored the East China Sea zone, which was announced on Nov. 23 and is seen primarily as a bid to bolster China's claim over uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The Philippines is locked in a long territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.

When asked to comment about concerns that China might set up a similar zone over the South China Sea, Ambassador Ma Keqing said in a news conference that it was within the right of the Chinese government to decide "where and when to set up the new air identification zone."

But she added she could not tell at this time if China would do so.

Ma said that the East China Sea zone's designation should not spark concerns.

"I think the target is not to trigger a conflict but to prevent, to pre-empt any tension to be raised in these areas," Ma said. "This will not hinder any normal freedom of flights within this area if they've notified the Chinese authorities."

The new U.S. ambassador to Manila, Philip Goldberg, described China's move as dangerous.

"We do not believe that this is a move intended to build confidence or, in any other way, improve the situation," Goldberg told reporters.

Instead, China's new zone "will create tension and the possibility of miscalculations and that's never good, especially in an area where we know that, whether it's over the Senkakus or ... the South China Sea."

While the U.S. has not recognized the Chinese imposition, it has advised its carriers to comply to be safe.

"We can't, with commercial aircraft, take chances, as I mentioned, of miscalculation, so we have recommended to our commercial airlines that they give such notification," Goldberg said.

China has said that all aircraft entering the zone of international waters between China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan must notify Chinese authorities beforehand and that it would take unspecified defensive measures against those that don't comply.

China has been locked over increasingly-tense disputes over potentially oil- and gas-rich territories in the South China Sea with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

While recent territorial spats between Beijing and Manila have particularly been antagonistic, China has extended help to the Philippines, which was devastated by a Nov. 8 typhoon that left more than 5,600 people dead and 1,700 others missing.

Ma witnessed the turnover in Manila of three new payloaders donated Monday by Chinese companies to the Philippine Red Cross for clearing debris and rebuilding homes in the worst-hit central city of Tacloban.

"This typhoon provided an opportunity for the Chinese people to help the Philippine people, to show the traditional friendship between the two countries," Ma said. "This strong bond will live on despite all the differences we have."

Two new rebel groups emerge in restive southern region

From the Manila Times (Dec 2): Two new rebel groups emerge in restive southern region

GOVERNMENT security forces have monitored the emergence of two new militant groups in the restive region of Southern Philippines, which are also known for the heavy presence of rebels, bandits and lawless elements.

Highly placed sources from the police intelligence community disclosed Monday that their operatives have monitored the emergence of two militant groups in Sulu province and Central Mindanao region.

A Manila-based police intelligence officer who asked not to be named since he was not authorized to speak on the matter named these two new groups as “Anak Ti Ilo” and “Young Jihadist Group” (YJG).

The police officer said “Anak Ti Ilo” (Orphans of War) was formed in Sulu by alleged relatives and orphans of Abu Sayyaf (ASG) bandits and Moro rebels killed in fighting with government security forces.

“They are mostly orphans and they are operating in the area of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi [Basulta] were most of their members were recruited of came from,” the police intelligence officer said.

The police source said that they suspects the “Anak Ti Ilo”, have recruited more than 30 members and also be behind in rash of kidnapping for ransom incident that have occurred in Sulu and nearby islands.

While the other group, the “Young Jihadist Group,” was monitored by police intelligence operatives to be recruiting their members in Central Mindanao region, another source from the intelligence community.

Like “Anak Ti Ilo,” most members of the “Young Jihadist Group” were also orphans and relatives of Moro rebels that were killed in fighting with government security forces in Mindanao region.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and it’s by product, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), are the two largest rebel groups that have been fighting the government for self-independence.

“Their recruitment is mostly in concentrated in Central Mindanao and they may have already recruited some 100 members,” the police intelligence source said.

The intelligence officer said that they suspect that “Young Jihadist Group,” which is also called as “Filipino Maharlika” have a tactical alliance of links with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The BIFF, a breakaway rebel group from MILF, strongly opposes the holding of peacetalks between the MILF and Philippine government and advocates for self-rule in Mindanao.

Security analyst and UP professor, Rommel Banlaoi, said the emergence of new militant groups shows that there are still some groups or individuals still has different views in solving the problem in Mindanao.

“There are groups viewing the prob-lem and solution to Mindanao conflict from different vantage points,” Banloi, who is also chairman of Philippine Institute for Peace and Violence Terrorism Research, said.

“These vantage points are informed by political and economic interests of players,” he added.

PH-US alliance cornerstone of security in Asia Pacific – envoy

From the Manila Times (Dec 2): PH-US alliance cornerstone of security in Asia Pacific – envoy

The alliance of the United States (US) and the Philippines has been the “cornerstone of security” in the Asia Pacific region, newly installed US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg said on Tuesday.

In a statement shortly after he presented his credentials to President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Goldberg highlighted the strong and deep relationship between Washington and Manila, which he said was evident in the participation of American soldiers in the relief operations in Eastern Visayas.

He lauded the devotion of Americans and Filipinos in rushing to help those in need after the typhoon flattened entire towns in Leyte and Samar provinces, particularly Tacloban City.

“This cooperation in the selfless service of others truly represents the best of our two nations. I am confident that with strength and resilience, the people touched by this tragedy will soon rebuild their lives,” Goldberg said. “And the United States will be there to help them along the way.”

He said Washington does not intend to reestablish permanent military bases in the country. The Increased Rotational Presence (IRP) framework agreement being cobbled together by the US and Philippines has sparked concerns that the US might reopen its bases in the Philippines it abandoned in 1991.

“Let me say clearly though, we’re not talking about bases or any kind of new bases for the United States,” Goldberg stressed.

He noted that the framework agreement “is about our capacity to help the Philippine government and military as it advances in many areas in its own interests.”

“There are reasons to build minimal defense capability and maritime defense awareness. That will come with a framework agreement,” he added. “I don’t know exactly when we (will) have an agreement. What I can say is that it’s important for both countries.”

He reminded that Filipinos and Americans fought side-by-side during the World War II and “subsequent conflicts to defend our shared values.”

The foundation of the relationship between the two countries is its people-to-people ties, Goldberg said, noting that some four million Filipino-Americans live in the United States while there are 350,000 Americans in the Philippines.

Goldberg said the past relations between Manila and Washington will only add fuel to a future “that is bright with promise and potential.”

He promised to maintain the close ties of the two nations “on regional security, counter-terrorism, and in combating transnational crime, including the scourge of trafficking in persons.”

Goldberg added that the Philippine and US militaries will also continue working together on disaster relief, peacekeeping, defense form and human rights. He also mentioned cooperation in the field of maritime security, a touchy subject because of China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea.

The region, believed to hold vast amounts of oil and mineral deposits, is being claimed in whole by China, and in part by the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.

Goldberg said Manila must continue leading the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in promoting democracy and human rights in the region.

The Philippines is a founding member of Asean, which groups Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Brunei Darussalam.

“We will support your efforts to make the Philippines more competitive in the world market by promoting open markets, protecting intellectual property rights, and fighting corruption,” Goldberg said.

“Through these efforts, we hope to see the Philippines achieve growth that is both inclusive and sustainable,” he added.

The US will also work with the Philippines in undertaking long-term disaster risk reduction efforts “that will mitigate the impact of natural disasters on lives and property.”

DND: Korean bid disqualified

From the Manila Standard Today (Dec 2): DND: Korean bid disqualified

The Department of National Defense on Monday stood firm on disqualifying Kolon Global Corp. which submitted a product that was found to be inferior and sub-standard in the bidding for 44,080 pieces of armor vests.

Assistant Secretary Efren Fernandez, Bids and Awards Committee chairman, the decision followed the implementation of RA 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) based on the findings of the Assessment/Post-Qualification body headed by General Essel Soriano (Ret.), the highest technical working group, representing the Army and Marines.

The DND announcement was made amid news reports indicating that Kolon allegedly offered an armor vest, whose metal plate, upon measurement, was found to be technically non-compliant as required in the bid document, hence, was declared substandard and inferior in quality.

The bidding for the supply of 44,080-pieces armored vests, for the use of army and marines worth P1.76 billion, started in 2012 and bids were opened last April with four companies emerging as lowest qualified bidders, namely: Kolon of Korea; Merkata of Serbia; JV Achidatex Nazareth Elite of Israel; and MKU Private Ltd. of India.

“As in other departments of the government, the mere fact that one submitted the lowest bid does not automatically entitle the bidder to be awarded the project if its product fails in the post-qualification, assessment and analysis which is the most crucial stage of the bidding process,” Fernandez said.

“The work of the DND-BAC and its process was very transparent from Day-1 in line with the order of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin. We cannot compromise the safety and lives of our soldiers who are engaged in armed conflict and battle.” he said.

Recognizing financial consideration important as well, “we must understand the very purpose of the product we are buying is for the protection of the vital body part of our soldiers. A soldier killed because of an inferior or sub-standard vest cannot be equated to the money saved from a flawed bidding.”

Fernandez admitted that being “a retired military/police general, I am blessed to have survived those trying experiences in combat while I was in the active service. During those times, I have practically seen the many faces of death especially those of my own men who fell in battle and made the supreme sacrifice simply because they were not provided the right body protection.”

OIC invites Misuari to Ministers’ confab

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 2): OIC invites Misuari to Ministers’ confab

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has officially invited Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding Chairman Nur P. Misuari to the 40th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) from December 9 to 11 in Conakry, Guinea, Western Africa.

The invitation made by OIC Secretary General Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanuglo bears the date November 24, 2013.

“I have the honor and pleasure to invite you, on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Guinea, and the General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to participate in the 40th Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers,” said Ihsanuglo, addressing Misuari as “Excellency.”

The OIC official asked the MNLF chieftain to inform the pan-Islamic body of the names of his delegation and travel plans.

Professor Mashur Ghalib bin Jundam provided a copy of the OIC invitation to the Manila Bulletin.

The MNLF leaders expect that the deadly Zamboanga City siege in September, where some 400 Moro rebels and soldiers died, and the government proposal to close the tripartite review of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA), as well as other Bangsamoro issues, to be discussed.

Since the 1970s, the 57-member state OIC has recognized the MNLF as the “sole legitimate representative of the Bangsamoro people.”

This developed after the OIC granted the MNLF an unprecedented and special observer status in relation with the “Question of Muslims in Southern Philippines” already enshrined in the OIC’s annals.

Sources among Misuari’s allies said that if the Moro leader has the choice, considering a case and a warrant of arrest are hounding him, he will definitely attend the Conakry meeting.

Misuari, they said, would not want to miss seeing his friend Ihsanuglo, who will be replaced this year as OIC secretary general by a Saudi Arabian official.

Indonesia will also bow out this year as chairman of the OIC’s Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (PCSP) after 20 years to be replaced by Egypt.

“Both events are important to Brother Nur, so he wants to personally thank Ihsanuglo, and Indonesia at the Conakry meeting,” the MNLF members said.

However, they acknowledged Misuari’s predicament as he has gone in hiding since the siege on September 9 of Zamboanga City.

The question remains if the MNLF founding leader would be able to go to Conakry.

NPA warns of encounters

From the Visayan Daily Star (Dec 2): NPA warns of encounters

The Communist Party of the Philippines  denounced the administration of  President Benigno Aquino III  and the Armed Forces of the Philippines  for allegedly waging relentless armed offensives in Negros, Panay and in areas of Eastern Visayas, and said that “armed encounters” are bound to erupt, as the New People’s Army maybe compelled to defend themselves.

The CPP accused the AFP of taking advantage of its ceasefire declaration by waging what it described as relentless offensive operations against the NPA and the peasant masses in the revolutionary areas.

The AFP has been silent so far  on whether or not to reciprocate the month-long unilateral ceasefire  being observed by the NPA in typhoon devastated areas of Visayas, including northern Negros.

Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander,  issued a statement rejecting the temporary ceasefire of the NPA.

“I will only accept a forever ceasefre, and not just a ceasefire to deceive the government“,  Aying said.

The extended ceasefire period aims to allow all revolutionary forces to concentrate on the urgent task of rehabilitation and asserting the people’s economic rights amidst the disaster, the CPP statement said.

It claims that  AFP’s massive offensive operations are impeding the people and their revolutionary forces from carrying out disaster relief and rehabilitation work and make the task of resuming economic production more difficult.

The military had said that the NPA violated its own unilateral ceasefire by killing a policeman on Nov. 16 in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. Two encounters also took place in La Libertad, Negros Oriental, and Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, where a suspected rebel was killed  and an Army soldier, injured,  military records show.

The CPP said that, in accordance with the ceasefire declaration issued by its leadership, NPA units will fire only as an act of active defense against the offensive units of the AFP.

The extended CPP-NPA unilateral ceasefire ends Dec. 24 this year.

Military welcomes 93 new soldiers

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): Military welcomes 93 new soldiers

The military has welcomed 93 trainees who graduated the candidate soldiers course here on Monday afternoon.

Capt. Christian Uy, spokesperson of the army’s Public Affairs Division, said that the new soldiers belonged to Class 322 of the Candidate Soldier Course.

He said that the candidates came from various provinces in Northern Mindanao and Northeastern Mindanao region who underwent a six month rigid military training as a basis for their graduation.

During the six-month training period, the candidates were taught on the Basic Military Knowledge and Skills, Jungle Warfare, Mountaineering Operations, the Army Core Values, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, Uy said.

During the commencement exercise Monday afternoon, Brig. Gen. Ricardo R. Visaya, commander of the army’s 4th Infantry Division, congratulated the graduates, the proud families, and the training committee.

In his speech, Visaya said the graduation was only the beginning of their military career and that “all your actions now would be covered with orders.”

Visaya then exhorted the new soldiers to uphold the highest form of discipline expected of a soldier while cultivating the love for the service and expect all the best things to follow.

“In your love for the service, will stem not only a well disciplined soldier, but a soldier who is morally upright, and a soldier that will make his country proud,” Visaya added.

U.S. vice president kicks off Asia visit

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): U.S. vice president kicks off Asia visit

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden on Sunday embarked on a week-long visit to Japan, China and the Republic of Korea, in the administration's latest effort to rebalance toward Asia.

"In each country, the vice president will meet with key leaders to discuss a full range of bilateral, regional and global issues," the White House said in a statement, as Biden left the Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington for Tokyo.

"The trip will reaffirm our enduring presence as a Pacific power, promote our economic and trade interests, and underscore our commitment to rebalancing U.S. foreign policy towards the Asia- Pacific," the White House said.

Atop Biden's agenda will be the efforts to complete the Trans- Pacific Partnership negotiations, denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, help lower tensions in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, and boost U.S. economic ties with China, senior administration officials said.

Army, Japanese medical teams treat 231 Leyte residents

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): Army, Japanese medical teams treat 231 Leyte residents

Medical teams from the 8th Infantry Division and the Japanese Self Defense Forces (JSDF) provided on Monday free medical treatment and consultations to 231 residents of Barangay Fatima in Dulag town, Leyte.

Eleven patients were given anti-tetanus shots while the remaining 220 were given medicines for cough, fever, flu, cuts and a host of minor injuries.

Capt. Amado Gutierrez, 8th Infantry Division spokesperson, said these teams are part of the Japan Joint Task Force those aim to is serve the inner communities badly affected by "Yolanda" (Haiyan).

"The goal of the project is provide medical care to people living in far-flung barangays (villages) which are still to be serve yet by local and foreign aid organizations," he added.

Gutierrez said their mission will continue until all inner barangays are served.

Last Sunday, the 8th Infantry Division spokesperson said that military helicopters, attached to their command, has transported 915 sacks of rice, 17 boxes of assorted relief goods, 132 food packs and 83 tents to "Yolanda" battered towns in the provinces of Leyte, Eastern Samar, and Samar.

PA vows to uphold human rights at all times --Coballes

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): PA vows to uphold human rights at all times --Coballes

The Philippine Army (PA), during its flag-raising ceremonies Monday at its headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, vowed to uphold human rights at all times.

The pledge was made by Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel A. Coballes as he and all Army personnel present during the occasion recited the pledge, “Panunumpa sa Karapatang Pantao” (pledge to human rights).

This was done in observance of the National Human Rights Consciousness Week which is celebrated every year from Dec. 4 to 10.

Col. Perfecto M. Rimando Jr., Army Human Rights Office chief, led the recitation of the pledge.

In his speech, Coballes reaffirmed the Army’s commitment to strictly observe human rights in the conduct of operations.

“Patuloy nating isinusulong, isinasaloob, at pinapahalagahan ang karapatang pantao sa lahat ng ating mga operasyon at programa,” he emphasized.

“I am optimistic that as we continuously participate in this advocacy, we will fully internalize the impact of our genuine respect for human rights and our efforts to win the hearts and minds of our people. This is particularly significant to the fulfillment of our strategic intent and vision in the Army Transformation Roadmap,” he added.

Coballes also delivered the message of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista wherein he quoted:

“As we commemorate the National Human Rights Consciousness Week, let me reaffirm to our nation and the Filipino people the AFP’s commitment to protect, defend, and promote human rights.”

Bautista also emphasized in his statement that upholding human rights and securing the liberty of the people are essential pillars of the AFP’s national security mandate.

He said that this has been manifested during the Zamboanga incident last September and during the onslaught of super typhoon "Yolanda" last month.

“The AFP does not only protect human rights; we also work to uplift human lives,” Bautista pointed out.

The celebration of the National Human Rights Consciousness Week is embodied in Republic Act No. 9201 or National Human Rights Consciousness Week Act of 2002, wherein Dec. 4 to 10 is designated as such.

This Act also enjoins government agencies as well as private and public education/learning institutions to celebrate the week through simple and appropriate ceremonies and activities to promote awareness on the basic and fundamental human rights and propagate human rights culture that aims at sustainable development in the country.

US reaffirms support for code of conduct in Asian region

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): US reaffirms support for code of conduct in Asian region

The United States on Monday reaffirmed its support for a code of conduct that will ensure free navigation in the Southeast Asian region.

New US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said that while the US does not take sides in disputes in the region, such a code of conduct will ease tensions in the area.

“We don’t take sides and we are not a claimant state on any of these territorial features. But at the same time, we strongly support the countries of this region coming together for a Code of Conduct, which will help set out the rules of the road or the rules of the sea, as it will be a way for tensions to decrease,” he said at a media briefing, after presenting his credentials to President Benigno Aquino III.

He said the same is true of “any legal recourse that the Philippine government has taken.”

Goldberg said the US had expressed its concern, both to the Chinese directly and through media, about China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone.

Such a move may not build confidence but may instead create tension, he added.

“We believe in free navigation whether it’s in the air or on sea. That’s where the United States stands, and we will continue to press those beliefs, and we will support the peaceful and legal, diplomatic efforts underway to resolve tensions,” he added.

U.S. won't reopen bases in PHL -- Goldberg

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): U.S. won't reopen bases in PHL -- Goldberg

Washington’s new envoy to the Philippines on Monday said the United States has no intention of reopening military bases in the Philippines but expressed hope for a swift conclusion of a framework agreement that would allow a non-permanent rotational presence of U.S. soldiers in the country.

“Let me say clearly though, we’re not talking about bases or any kind of new bases for the United States,” Ambassador Philip Goldberg told a press conference after presenting his credentials to President Benigno S. Aquino III in Malacanang.

Philippine and U.S. panels are currently negotiating for an accord that will allow an increased rotational presence of American troops amid a backdrop of mounting territorial rift between the Philippines and China over the South China Sea. Manila has adopted the name West Philippine Sea for the disputed body of water, which has been the site of armed confrontations among claimants that also include Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

As China boldly asserts claim over the resource-rich waters, Philippine government officials said an expanded U.S. military presence can help its cash-strapped military defend the Philippines’ territory as it builds up its defense capability.

Goldberg believes that the agreement would also enhance disaster response cooperation between the two countries as demonstrated by Washington’s rapid response in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda that killed thousands in the Visayas region on Nov. 8.

“It’s important for the Philippines, I think, as we saw with the super typhoon ‘Yolanda’, to have even a greater ability to provide for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The ability to have that a little bit faster and, more efficiently, we’ll always be of help,” Goldberg said.

Manila has turned to the U.S., Australia, Japan and other western allies in an ongoing effort to modernize its military -- among the weakest in the Asian region -- and strengthen its capability to guard and defend its territory, including Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea that is being claimed nearly in its entirety by China.

The new accord between Manila and Washington came in the heels of Washington’s "Asian pivot" after its heavy military engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This is about our capacity to help the Philippine government and military as it advances in many areas in its own interests,” Goldberg said. “There are reasons to build minimal defense capability and maritime defense awareness.

That will come with a framework agreement.”

For decades, the U.S. maintained large military bases in Clark, Pampanga and Subic Bay in Olongapo, Zambales until Philippine lawmakers voted to close it down in 1991.

But since 2002, about 500 to 600 American troops have been staying in Philippine military camps in southern Mindanao to help train and provide intelligence information to Filipino soldiers, who are fighting violent Muslim groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah.

The American presence is allowed under the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, which was ratified by the Senate to govern the temporary stay of U.S. forces for joint trainings with their Philippine military counterparts.

The U.S. is not a party to the territorial row but has declared that it is in its national interest to ensure freedom of navigation and that conflicts are resolved peacefully.

“I think it’s inherently in the interest of both to move forward and I hope it will happen as soon as possible,” Goldberg said.

Pipe bomb recovered in Basilan store

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Dec 2): Pipe bomb recovered in Basilan store

An improvised explosive was discovered Monday at a baggage counter of a small shopping store in Isabela City in Basilan province in southern Philippines, police said.

The explosive, a small pipe bomb rigged to a cell phone and concealed in a cardboard box, was recovered at the New Mabuhay Trading a week after it was left there by an unidentified shopper. The discovery came after an employee noticed the unclaimed baggage and informed the store owner.

Members of the army’s anti-ordnance unit disarmed the explosive. It was not immediately known why the bomb did not explode or whether the explosive had malfunctioned.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the failed bombing, but extortionists and rebels are actively operating in Basilan and have been largely blamed for attacks on civilian targets.

2 travelling merchants killed in Basilan province

From the Mindanao Examiner (Dec 2): 2 travelling merchants killed in Basilan province

Gunmen have killed two merchants on Monday in an attack in the restive province of Basilan in the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, police said.

Police said the two victims – Arnel Diad and Levi Altuvero – were travelling on a motorcycle when gunmen attacked them in the village of Languyan in Mohd Adjul town. The motive of the attack or who were behind it is still unknown, but rebels are actively operating in the province.

The victims were natives of Zamboanga Sibugay province who were selling assorted kitchen products in Basilan.

It was not the first time that travelling merchants had been targeted in the troubled province. In January 2011, Abu Sayyaf rebels also ambushed a truck and killing 5 merchants selling mattresses; and other attacks that targeted civilians.

Police did not say whether the latest attack was perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf or criminal gangs.

UNCLOS is best recourse in West Philippine Sea territorial dispute

From InterAksyon (Dec 2): UNCLOS is best recourse in West Philippine Sea territorial dispute

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the prime solution among claimants in the South China Sea territorial disputes to defuse the heated tension between Japan and China, a Stanford University senior fellow said on Monday.
Donald Emerson said that clarifying the notoriously ambiguous “U-shaped line” by the Court of Arbitration under the UNCLOS is a good first step in order for all claimants in the South China Sea territorial dispute—an area which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea—to frame their positions attuned to international law.
While a comprehensive solution is presently beyond reach, the priority need is for mutual accommodations that are modest enough to be achievable, but significant enough to be worth the effort to pursue.
“Tensions urgently need to be addressed on multiple fronts in alternative ways. Recourse to international law is a prime option. Other channels include bilateral and multiple negotiations—bilateral, minilateral, and multilateral—designed to induce, end, and/or alter specific actions by the parties concerned,” he said.
Emerson’s policy concerns run from specific issues such as sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea to broad questions involving China-Southeast Asia relations, the American “rebalance” toward Asia, and the future of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Emerson will speak at a roundtable discussion organized by the Angara Centre for Law and Economics titled "What Is to Be Done? Resolving Maritime Disputes in Southeast Asia" on December 5 at the Marriott Hotel, Resorts World Manila.
The event will be keynoted by former Senator Edgardo J. Angara, who recently concluded over two decades of distinguished service as a Philippine legislator. 
A president of the University of the Philippines, Angara also led the creation of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (UP-IMLOS), a highly specialized academic research institution based in the UP Law Center devoted to maritime affairs.
Other featured speakers include Ian Storey of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, Yoichiro Sato of the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan, Shen Dingli of Fudan University in China, and Professor Harry Roque of the University of the Philippines.
The forum and roundtable discussions will be moderated by Prof. John Nye of George Mason University, Executive Director of the Angara Centre.
The event is sponsored by Asia United Bank.