Thursday, January 16, 2014

Army elite unit expands

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 17): Army elite unit expands

The Philippine Army's Light Reaction Battalion, deployed in Zamboanga City to contain the rogue Moro National Liberation Front – Nur Misuari faction in September last year, was expanded yesterday into a regiment-sized unit.

The activation of Light Reaction Regiment, the lead counter-terrorist unit of the Philippine Army, was made yesterday at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija The event also coincided with the 23rd founding anniversary of the Special Operations Command, with Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes among the guests.

The 6th Special Forces Battalion and the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion are among the Army's elite units that used to be deployed in Negros for counter-insurgency operations, under the SOCOM supervision.

Military records show that SF and Scout Rangers, as well as the LRB troopers, were among the AFP elite units who liberated Zambonga City from MNLF control, after almost a month of fierce gunbattle.

With the activation, the LRB has expanded into a regiment composed of six companies that will be under the command of Col. Teodoro Llamas.

Formerly known as the Light Reaction Battalion, the Light Reaction Regiment will include the 4th Light Reaction Company that is expected to be activated this year, while the 5th and 6th Light Reaction Companies will be formed not later than 2015.

Coballes said the battalion has proven its mettle in the country's counter-terrorism efforts during the Zamboanga siege.

The expertise among the unit include hostage rescue operations, special reconnaissance, special operations target interdiction, direct action operations and counter-terrorist operations.

Its mission is to organize, train, equip, provide and sustain counter terrorist unit and conduct counter terrorist operations in support of the Philippine Army's mission.

Army seizes NPA claymore mines

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 17): Army seizes NPA claymore mines

The Army's 303rd Infantry Brigade reported yesterday the recovery of six anti-personnel claymore mines with blasting caps of the New People's Army in Manapla, Negros Occidental.

Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said they have foiled the NPA in Negros from using improvised anti-personnel claymore mines after their recovery in Brgy. Purisima, Manapla.

Aying said the six improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with blasting caps, and a fragmentation grenade, were recovered Monday by government troopers in Brgy Purisima, Manapla, after receiving information from concerned citizens.

He said they have received reports of IEDs being brought into Negros from Panay, and of rebels being trained in assembling of homemade explosives.

In previous months, the 62nd Infantry Battalion also recovered nine high-powered firearms, including AK-47, M-16 and M-14 assault rifles, that had been hidden by the NPA, following a series of encounters at the boundary of Sagay City and Toboso, military records showed.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has condemned the NPA for its continued use of improvised explosive devices such as landmines, which is in violation of the Comprehensive Agreement to Respect Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law of which the CPP-NPA-NDF was a signatory.

The National Democratic Front repeatedly declared that the NPA does not use, and has never used mines which are not command-detonated and directed against military vehicles and personnel, stressing that command-detonated mines are not prohibited by any international treaty or convention, including the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols.

Anti-personnel mines   are designed for use against humans and vehicles.

Records of the 3rd Infantry Division showed the NPA has continuously been using landmines from 2009 to 2013. Army troopers have recovered 11 improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

In March 2012, the NPAs detonated IEDs against government forces in a populated area in the boundaries of barangays Adgao and Ingay in Tubungan, Iloilo. Aside from inflicting casualties on government troops, two civilians were injured in that attack, military records also showed.

Convicted NDF consultant to appeal verdict

From the Philippine Star (Jan 17): Convicted NDF consultant to appeal verdict    

Lawyers of the a peace talks consultant convicted of illegal gun raps will ask Muntinlupa City court on Friday to reconsider its ruling on the case.

Rights group Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said lawyers of peace consultant Eduardo Sarmiento will argue on their second motion for inhibition and motion for reconsideration at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial court branch 203.

The counsels of Sarmiento maintain that their client is a National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultant who represented the Eastern Visayas Region in the peace negotiations with the Government of Philippines.

Being a Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees  holder, he is supposedly protected from arrest and detention or persecution to be able to perform his duties in the peace process, Sarmiento's lawyers argue.

"Yet, the Aquino government violated this agreement several times when it pressed Sarmiento and other NDFP consultants with trumped up charges," Palabay said.

Palabay said that Judge Myra Bayot-Quiambao found Sarmiento guilty of the charge of illegal possession of firearms and explosives despite having a planted evidence.

Sarmiento's counsels from the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers moved to inhibit Bayot-Quiambao.

According to the motion,  "the presiding judge made such ruling despite the fact that no evidence was presented that could establish the gravity of the offense... The prosecution miserably failed to establish the identity of the corpus delicti, i.e. fragmentation grenade."

The counsels also raised serious questions regarding the judge's  objectivity and impartiality to the case.

Bayot-Quiambao served as Senior State Prosecutor from 2002 to 2009, and was included in the GPH team created by then Justice secretary Agnes Devanadera to look into the cases of the consultants to the peace process and work for their release, Sarmiento's counsels said.

"Having participated in some discussions on the consultants' cases in the peace process and having taken the position of the government, the presiding judge should have inhibited herself when she was asked for the first time to recuse herself in hearing the case," the motion read.

"The manifest bias of the presiding judge in favor of the prosecution during hearing for the case left the accused in serious doubt as to her impartiality on rendering a just ruling," the motion stated.

Sarmiento's Motion for Reconsideration, on the other hand, stated that "the honorable court committed serious errors of facts and law in finding the accused (Sarmiento) guilty of violating PD 1866, as amended by RA 9516 despite the (1.) failure of the prosecution to prove the offense charged beyond reasonable doubt, (2.) failure of the prosecution to establish the chain of custody of the fragmented grenade, and (3.) blindly relying on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties over the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent."

Two other criminal charges -- for the use of fictitious name and arson -- that were filed against Sarmiento are already dismissed.

Members of Karapatan, Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto and other human rights and peace advocates will gather in front of the RTC during the hearing to call for the release of Sarmiento and the other 12 detained NDFP peace consultants.

MILF: BMLI conducts 2nd batch of Trainers Training

From the MILF Website (Jan 17): BMLI conducts 2nd batch of Trainers Training

The Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) in consonance with its mandate of undertaking capacity building for Moro leaders and professionals conducted the 2nd batch of Trainers Training at the institute’s training hall in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on January 8-10, 2014.
The training was part of a series of lined-up activities supported and funded by the Asia Foundation (TAF) and AusAid with the theme “Empowering Bangsamoro Potential Leaders and Communities”. Other activities being held at the BLMI are supported by the Conciliation Resources (CR)-European Union (EU).

Atty. Haron Meling, Chief Executive Assistant to Chairman Mohagher Iqbal of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) delved on Ministerial form of Government and its correlated aspects suitable to the proposed Bangsamoro new political entity. He sorted out his lectures in a simplified manner by presenting several types of ministerial form of governments adopted by counties like Great Britain, Malaysia, Australia, etc.

Ustadz Sammy Alabat, a Shariah Law graduate in Pakistan and member of Steering Committee and Extension Services Officer of BLMI presented his topics synthetically on political party in Islamic perspective and accentuated its correlation and conciliation approaches with the secular system of Governance.
Nash Pulindao on the other hand stressed the importance of advocacy pertaining to the Framework Agreement and other vital programs that can contribute to the success of the peace process and the future Bangsamoro region. He provided details yet practical manner on how to make the issues acceptable and participatory. He elaborated the principle of flexibility in dealing with people on the ground with diversified cultures, interest and religion.     

Dr. Taugan Kikay, Team Leader of Bangsamoro Sajahatra also dealt on political party system adopted by countries which are now well-developed and continue to progress socially, politically and economically.

The program was facilitated by Prof. Esmael Abdula. BLMI Training Officer and other BLMI Staff while this writer, BLMI Research Officer prepared and provided soft and hard copies of the lectures distributed to the participants for their reference.

BLMI Executive Director, Sheikh Mahmod Ahmad delivered the closing remarks with motivating and striking message quoted from Holy Qur’an verse that says “Allah will not change the condition of the people unless they change it themselves”.
Dr. Taugan Kikay, Team Leader of Bangsamoro Sajahatra also dealt on political party system adopted by countries which are now well-developed and continue to progress socially, politically and economically.

The program was facilitated by Prof. Esmael Abdula. BLMI Training Officer and other BLMI Staff while this writer, BLMI Research Officer prepared and provided soft and hard copies of the lectures distributed to the participants for their reference.

BLMI Executive Director, Sheikh Mahmod Ahmad delivered the closing remarks with motivating and striking message quoted from Holy Qur’an verse that says “Allah will not change the condition of the people unless they change it themselves”.

2 communist rebels yield in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Jan 16): 2 communist rebels yield in Southern Philippines  

Army officials said two more communist rebels have surrendered to the military in the southern Filipino province of Davao del Norte, bringing to 11 the number of insurgents who returned to the folds of the law in the past week.

Capt. Alberto Caber, a spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command, said Ronnie Andoy and Ryan Metoda surrendered to the 60th Infantry Battalion during a peace mission in the village of Suawon in New Corella town.

He said the two New People’s Army sub-leaders were members of the Sandatahang Yunit Propaganda-Front 33 which is under the communist Southern Mindanao Regional Committee. The duo admitted recruiting members for the NPA and participated in several attacks targeting the military and civilians in the province.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, the division commander, welcomed the voluntary surrender of Andoy and Metoda.

“Conscience brought these NPA sub-leaders to return to the folds of the law as our people are aware of their anti-people works. Our Armed Forces and the police units are always ready to assist in their surrender even without firearms, but they should have brought their firearms, so that they will have something to start when they are reunited with their families. Every M16 rifle they surrender is paid by the government with an equivalent amount under our Guns-for-Peace program,” Cruz said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

There was no immediate statement from the NPA about the surrender.

Just recently, Caber said nine NPA rebels, including a leader and his deputy, also surrendered to the military in Davao del Sur and South Cotabato provinces. He said three rebels - Charlie Pasco, Jeffrey Pasco and Guiller Ombaoy – surrendered to the 39th Infantry Battalion at Sitio Balagonon in the village Managa in Davao del Sur’s Bansalan town.

And six more rebels surrendered to the 27th Infantry Battalion in the village of Tasiman in South Cotabato’s Lake Sebu. Among those who yielded were a rebel leader Rudy Sawang and his deputy Anita Dalugan. The four others have been identified as John Tomo, Lemuel Nalon, Luna Kaong and Dina Daludo.

The NPA has been fighting for many decades now for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. Government peace talks with the rebel group had failed many times following demands by the communist group to free all jailed rebel leaders and political prisoners.

DND building Air Force facilities in Palawan, Tawi-Tawi

From ABS-CBN (Jan 17): DND building Air Force facilities in Palawan, Tawi-Tawi

The Department of National Defense (DND) is building two Air Force facilities to upgrade the military’s maritime defense and rescue capabilities over the country’s territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea and Sulu Sea.

Called the Philippine Air Force (PAF) Search and Rescue Basing and Hangarage Project amounting to about P149 million, the facilities will be constructed in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan and in Sanga-Sanga in Tawi-Tawi.

The department also signed an P882-million contract with an Israeli firm last week for the acquisition of 28 armored infantry fighting vehicles.

The PAF is also expecting deliveries of a squadron of lead-in fighter jets and rotary aircraft under its ongoing capability upgrade projects in line with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s modernization program.

“The plan is to upgrade the capability requirements of the Philippine Air Force and improve the operational effectiveness by constructing hangars and facilities as support systems to sustain the search and rescue operations and support its maritime security and protection of the Malampaya natural gas-to-power project, the Reed Bank and the future Sulu oil rig,” said Defense Undersecretary Eduardo Batac, who chairs the DND’s Special Bids and Awards Committee-2, in a published bidding invitation for the two projects.

Reed Bank, which is also being claimed by China, is believed to be sitting on huge oil and natural gas deposits.

Two years ago, two Chinese vessels harassed a civilian survey vessel commissioned by the Department of Energy, prompting then Western Command Cmdr. Lt. Gen. Juancho Sabban to dispatch two OV-10 bombers to ensure the safety of the DOE vessel and its crew.

The Malampaya natural gas-to-power project, also in the waters of Palawan, is in full operation. There are also ongoing oil explorations in Sulu Sea, which is believed to contain huge oil and mineral deposits.

“The DND and AFP now invite bids for eligible bidders for the construction of two SAR hangarage projects including other requirements,” Batac said.

Pre-bid conference is scheduled on Jan. 22 at the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office conference room in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
Opening of bids for the project has been scheduled on Feb. 3 at the same venue.

“Bidding is restricted to Filipino citizens or organizations with at least 75 percent interest or outstanding capital stock belonging to citizens of the Philippines,” Batac said.

On the acquisition of 28 armored infantry fighting vehicles from Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems Land and C4I, Batac said it is aimed at boosting the inventory of light armored units and land fighting capabilities of the 80,000-strong Philippine Army.

Four of the 28 armored vehicles are of the recovery type, which can be used to tow damaged units in times of combat.

Defense assistant secretary Patrick Velez said delivery is expected within two years.

Maguindanao task force settles ‘Rido’ anew

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 16): Maguindanao task force settles ‘Rido’ anew

Peace advocates and even Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) officers cited the Maguindanao Task Force on Reconciliation and Unification (MTFRU) for its drive in settling local clan feuds or rido, saying the campaign is “revving up” constructive efforts in the province and boosting thrusts behind the Mindanao peace process.

“Sowing peace and conciliation in troubled communities is noble. We salute the people behind the MTFRU in helping transform Maguindanao, and wish them all the best,” academician Eddie Gonzales of the Zamboanga region said.

The secretariat in the MILF negotiations with the government lauded the MTFRU for fleshing out in advance in Maguindanao the intent of the Mindanao peace agenda.

Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, MTFRU chairman, appreciated the expressed plaudits even as he announced that MILF vice chairman for political affairs Mohagher Iqbal was set to pay him a courtesy call yesterday afternoon in Buluan town.

The governor, however, did not mention the agenda of Iqbal’s visit. But other sources said Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel, could have something to do with the MTFRU operations that recently involved the role and plight of revolutionary group’s field forces.

On Wednesday, Mangudadatu and fellow MTFRU officials settled in Datu Paglas town an earlier fatal shooting of Reneeboy, son of Senior Police Officer 3 Meng Kadalim, at the residential compound of Sheikh Kaliffa Nando, chief of the MILF’s Supreme Shariah Court. Suspected in the shooting was one of Kaliffa’s children, it was learned.

“Let’s live by the teachings of Islam as exemplified by Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w.). There is no substitute for peace… Maguindanao can be as good as other provinces when we do our share,” Gov. Mangudadatu told dozens of local officials and residents that witnessed the settlement rites Wednesday morning.

AFP chief extols SOCOM for keeping PH safer

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 16): AFP chief extols SOCOM for keeping PH safer

AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista. Photo from AFP Public Affairs Office

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, General Emmanuel Bautista, extoled the Special Operations Command for its exemplary work in keeping the country safe during the unit’s 23rd anniversary celebration at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija Thursday.

Still, Bautista urged OCOM to stay ahead of the threats and foil plots that could hamper the country’s security and stability.

“Our nation is more secured and the AFP is more respected,” Bautista said in his speech during the celebration.

“You have ensured that the Philippines will no longer be a safe haven for terrorists,” he said as he lauded the unit after its operations thwarted rogue members of the Moro National Liberation Front who attacked Zamboanga in September last year.

The AFP chief also praised SOCOM for its prompt disaster response to the Bohol-Cebu deadly earthquake  and  Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

“You are the most admired and respective fighting force.”

Gazmin calls on superpowers to stand up to China

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 16): Gazmin calls on superpowers to stand up to China

This undated photo handout released by the Kayalaan Municipal office on July 13, 2011 shows the island of Kalayaan, which means “Freedom” in the Filipino language, that was created in 1978 mainly to assert the Philippines’ claim to the disputed territory in the Spratlys, a chain of islets in the South China Sea. For the few dozen Filipinos living on a remote speck of land in the South China Sea, each day is a battle against loneliness but also a love affair with nature. Contact with the outside world is limited and comforts are few for the residents of “Freedom” town, which exists mainly to raise the Philippine flag and fend off the other claimants to the Spratly islands. AFP FILE PHOTO/ Kayalaan Municipal office

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday said that China has been harassing countries with smaller military power in their aggressive operations in the West Philippine Sea and called on superpower nations to defend weaker nations.

Recently, China imposed fishing laws that extended to the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone saying that Beijing’s nine-dash line would overlap the economic restrictions that the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea set for the country.

“China is projecting itself as a superpower; they have been very aggressive lately,” Gazmin said in the 23rd anniversary of the Special Operations Command in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

Gazmin said that superpowers should be the one to say to China that their actions are uncalled for.

“There should be a superpower that should stand up to China,” Gazmin said.

Recently United States legislators reacted to China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea that worried both Republicans and Democrats.

American lawmakers feel that the Chinese actions could lead to territorial disputes since the US has bilateral defense treaties with Japan and the Philippines.

Gazmin added that despite the glaring difference in military power, the country’s armed forces can still secure the safety of the fishermen going to the fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea.

“We are not following the rules of China in our own territory, why are we going to follow them if we fish in our own seas,” Gazmin said.

What If China Did Invade Pag-asa Island?

From The Diplomat (Jan 16): What If China Did Invade Pag-asa Island?
by Carl Thayer

An invasion of Pag-asa Island by Chinese forces would certainly be a tragic mistake for China.

In the midst of the furor over Hainan province’s new fishing regulations covering nearly sixty percent of the South China Sea, an unnamed Chinese writer penned an article in the Chinese-language publication Qianzhan (Prospects) arguing that China would recover Zhongye Island by force during 2014 as part of a long-term naval expansion plan.

The article likely would have attracted little attention outside China until a summary was translated into English by Chan Kai Yee (who is now often mistakenly listed as the original piece’s author). The summary was published by the China Daily Mail on January 13 under the headline, “China and the Philippines: The reason why a battle for Zhongye (Pag-asa) Island seems unavoidable.”

It is common for retired Chinese military officers and civilian ultranationalists to write about the South China Sea and threaten the Philippines and Vietnam with military action for “stealing” Chinese territory. The Qianzhan article cites unnamed “experts” that the People’s Liberation Army Navy has drawn up a detailed combat plan to seize Zhongye Island this year because of its strategic significance.

Zhongye is better known as Thitu Island or Pag-asa in Tagalog. It is the second largest island in the Spratlys, estimated to cover an area of 37.2 hectares (or 0.14 square miles/0.36 square kilometers). Itu Aba is the largest of the islands in the archipelago and covers an area of 46 hectares in size. It is occupied by Taiwan.

Pag-asa Island lies exposed in the upper northwest quadrant of the Spratlys at the outer boundary of islands and features forming the archipelago. To its west lies the open South China Sea.

Pag-asa Island is designated a town belonging to the Philippine municipality of Kalayaan. It boasts a civilian population of nearly two hundred. Pag-asa contains a number of structures including a municipal building, a community hall, health center, nursery school, water plant, communications tower and an airstrip.

The airstrip, known as Rancudo Airfield, is 1,400 meters in length and services both civilian and military aircraft, including the Philippine Air Force’s C-130 cargo plane. In March 2011, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Eduardo Oban announced plans to upgrade the airfield and repair army barracks. About fifty AFP soldiers are stationed on Pag-asa.

As the article noted, control over Zhongye Island would enable China to exert control over a vast expanse of the South China Sea if it constructed naval and air bases there. The author argued, “the world’s largest aircraft carrier, the [USS] Ford, costs $12.8 billion to build but only has a deck area of 0.026 square km. An air base established on Zhongye Island will be a dozen times larger and cost much less, but it is unsinkable and has a very long service life.”

How plausible is the Qianzhan‘s scenario?

China could easily achieve strategic surprise and seize Pag-asa Island. China could disguise an invasion force as a flotilla engaged in routine naval exercises in the South China Sea. In March-April last year, for example, China assembled a small flotilla to conduct combat training exercises in the South China Sea.

The flotilla comprised the modern amphibious assault ship Jinggangshan, two guided missile frigates and a guided missile destroyer. When the flotilla reached the waters surrounding Mischief Reef, Chinese state television showed pictures of People’s Liberation Army marines in hovercraft storming the beach of a Chinese-occupied islet supported by armed helicopters.

A similar flotilla could set sail ostensibly to undertake normal combat training exercises. It could achieve strategic surprise by veering off suddenly and invading Pag-asa. The Philippines would have little or no warning time to prepare to its defense. The island would probably be taken in a few hours or less.

This scenario assumes that U.S. intelligence and its associated national technical means failed to detect signs of China’s preparations in advance, thus providing no warning time to take action to deter China. China’s seizure of Pag-asa could be expected to follow some signs of deteriorating relations between China and the Philippines or a worsening security situation in the region. These developments might signal a change in China’s intent. This would normally trigger a closer look at Chinese naval and air activities by U.S. intelligence.

China’s seizure of Pag-asa Island would be an act of war. Currently, the Armed Forces of the Philippines would be unable to mount any meaningful response. Chinese destroyers and frigates would provide air defense if the Philippines scrambled jet fighters from the nearest air base on Palawan Island, over 480 km distant. The Philippine Navy would be woefully outgunned.

The Philippines would immediately seek consultations with the United States under their Mutual Defense Treaty to work out a response.

The political fallout from seizing Pag-asa would be a huge set back for Chinese diplomacy. ASEAN would likely adopt an uncompromising political position and demand the immediate withdrawal of Chinese forces. ASEAN would receive political backing from the international community. Chinese aggression could even be raised at the United Nation,; but China would veto any discussion by the Security Council.

China’s actions in seizing Pag-asa Island would set off a race by claimant states to beef up the defense of their islands. This would likely include increased combat air patrols, anti-shipping exercises, and the deployment of conventional submarines. Several of the larger islands could be expected to house anti-ship cruise missiles.

It is regrettable that Qianzhan’s conflict scenario, like so much commentary churned out by retired Chinese military officers and ultranationalists, does not go beyond the bravado of acclaiming a swift Chinese victory to consider the costs of such action to China’s international standing, damage to its economy, and the risks of escalating military conflict.

Many other Chinese writers and analysts argue in support of China’s peaceful rise and support President Xi Jinping’s initiative for a China-ASEAN Treaty of Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation. These writers and analysts should criticize the hawkish views by retired military commentators and ultranationalist writers for being counterproductive to China’s longer-term interests.

The Philippines is to be congratulated for not rising to the bait. Official spokesmen declined to comment on an article they claimed was unofficial and unverified. Chinese media have already denied the veracity of the report.

Army intel tracking down followers possibly coddling Nur

From the Philippine Star (Jan 16): Army intel tracking down followers possibly coddling Nur

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Military intelligence units have been tracking down armed followers or groups who could be providing refuge to fugitive Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari in the hinterlands of Sulu, a senior military official said.

The military stood by its reports that Misuari, who escaped after directing the bloody Sept. 9 siege in this city, has not gone out of the country and was all the while hiding in his followers' enclaves.

Rear Admiral Isabelo Gador, chief of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM), said that intelligence units are tracking on all leads to determine whose group was securing Misuari.

“We stick to the reports that he is still in Sulu. We will check with our intelligence units who are his coddlers,” Gador told newsmen here.

The military official declined further comments citing sensitivity of the issue and the operation itself.

The manhunt was launched late September by the tracking forces who were cautious to avoid engaging the other neutral MNLF faction in the province of Sulu.

Misuari went in hiding after close to 500 MNLF followers led by Habier Malik, who were sent to take siege of Zamboanga City were quelled by the government forces after weeks of bloody standoff that saw more than 200 people, mostly rebels, killed and close to 300 MNLF captured or surrendered. More than 120,000 people were displaced.

Misuari and close to 300 of his followers are facing charges of rebellion and violation of international humanitarian law, genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Soldiers in Yolanda-hit areas rebuild damaged camps

From the Philippine Star (Jan 16): Soldiers in Yolanda-hit areas rebuild damaged camps

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija – Soldiers who are helping the areas hit by typhoon “Yolanda” are also trying to recover from the destruction caused by the typhoon.

Three military camps in Leyte were wiped out by the typhoon, forcing some soldiers to work on tents and makeshift offices.

The typhoon-struck troops, however, remain unfazed and are now reconstructing their camps while helping rebuild the lives of those they have sworn to protect.

Maj. Gen. Jet Velarmino, chief of the Army’s 8th division, said the headquarters of the 803rd brigade, the 19th battalion and the 78th battalion were heavily damaged by “Yolanda.” Air-conditioning units and other office equipment were also damaged.

“The headquarters of the three units located in Leyte were washed out totally. Their facilities were also damaged,” Velarmino said on the sidelines of the 23rd anniversary of the Special Operation Command here.

He clarified that not all troops in those units were affected as some of them were deployed in the field. Army units in Samar also suffered minor damage.

Affected troops have set up tents while their military camps are being reconstructed.

“We are rebuilding them (headquarters) slowly,” Velarmino said.
“Soldiers are capable of finding remedies,” he added.

Velarmino said soldiers have started reoccupying the damaged camps. He cited the case  of 803rd brigade headquarters, which now has a new roof.

“The higher headquarters did not abandon us. They downloaded funds and we bought construction materials,” the military official said.

“We were also given GI (galvanized iron) sheets so we were able to rebuild,” he added.

Velarmino said millions are needed to rebuild the three camps but could not provide an exact figure.

“Yolanda” placed an added burden to soldiers who are conducting internal security operations and securing humanitarian teams.

Velarmino, however, said their anti-insurgency drive has not been hampered by the relief operations.

Soldiers continue to be part of the clearing operations and the distribution of relief goods, he added.

“The main retrieval operations have been completed but we still find some bodies when clearing debris,” Velarmino said.

Citing data from the Bureau of Fire Protection, Velarmino said authorities uncover an average of 10 to 15 bodies per day.

Yolanda, which ravaged the country last November, has claimed the lives of more than 6,200 persons and has damaged more than P36-billion worth of properties.

World sea piracy falls for third straight year

From the Philippine Star (Jan 17): World sea piracy falls for third straight year

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- World sea piracy fell for a third straight year in 2013, as Somali pirates were curbed by international naval patrols and improved ship vigilance, an international maritime watchdog said Wednesday.

The International Maritime Bureau said global pirate attacks fell to a six-year low of 264, down from 297 in 2012 and 439 in 2011. Pirate attacks have declined since hitting a peak in 2010 with 445 attacks.

A total of 12 vessels were hijacked, with more than 300 crew members taken hostage and one killed during 2013, according to data compiled by the London-based bureau's piracy reporting center in Malaysia.

"The single biggest reason for the drop in worldwide piracy is the decrease in Somali piracy off the coast of East Africa," said IMB director, Capt. Pottengal Mukundan.

The bureau said only 15 attacks were reported off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the lowest since 2006. It was also down sharply from 75 cases in 2012 and 237 in 2011. It said the 15 incidents included two hijacked vessels, both which were released within a day as a result of naval actions.
Somali pirates have been deterred by international navies, stronger vessels, the use of private armed security teams and the stabilizing influence of Somalia's central government, it said.

"It is imperative to continue combined international efforts to tackle Somali piracy. Any complacency at this stage could rekindle pirate activity," Mukundan said.

The IMB said West African piracy however, took a turn for the worse and accounted for 19 percent of global attacks last year.

Nigerian pirates accounted for 31 of the region's 51 attacks, more than in any year since 2008, it said. Nigerian pirates ventured far into waters off Gabon, Ivory Coast and Togo, where they were linked with at least five of the region's seven reported vessel hijackings, it said.

Across the Indonesian archipelago, the IMB said piracy has surged but were mainly "low-level opportunistic thefts." A total of 106 cases were reported, up from 81 in 2012, it said. The IMB said it was working closely with Indonesian marine police, who have increased patrols and designated safe anchorage areas for use in higher risk ports.

Nine cases were reported each in the Singapore Straits and in Malaysian waters, it said.

The IMB said attacks in India and Bangladesh were also petty thefts. South Asian piracy has increased since 2010, hitting 14 incidents last year but active patrolling by Bangladesh's coast guard kept incidents off Chittagong at around 12 for the last few years, it said.

Army bolsters anti-terror force

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 16): Army bolsters anti-terror force

The Philippine Army beefed up its anti-terror force by activating the Light Reaction Regiment Thursday morning at the Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija during the Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) 23rd anniversary.

Formerly known as Light Reaction Battalion, the unit would be now composed of six companies by 2015.

The Regiment currently has three companies with the fourth to be activated in 2014 and the fifth and sixth companies in 2015.

“They are the country’s most lethal warriors,” said Philippine Army Commander Lieutenant General Noel A. Coballes.

“Victory, some of which, would be paid with ultimate sacrifice.”

According to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, the rest of the soldiers would come from within the SOCOM and from the Scout Rangers.

“These are anti-terrorism units, especially since they had the experience in urban warfare (that happened in Zamboanga), we will make that unit stronger,” Gazmin said.

The group would be under the command of Colonel Teodoro Llamas whose group would be the lead anti-terrorism forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Gazmin said that they are not expecting a larger terrorist activity but the AFP preferred to be prepared in case of more insurgent activities.

He added that the regiment’s equipment would be part of the modernization program of the AFP that would include special firearms and gadgets.

Coballes said that the regiment, as the elite forces of the Army, should become the most disciplined unit in their ranks.

“It is not enough to maintain the standard, they should set the bar,” Coballes said.

Aside from ships, DND shopping list includes planes, choppers, APCs

From GMA News (Jan 16): Aside from ships, DND shopping list includes planes, choppers, APCs

The Department of National Defense is looking to buy brand-new aircraft and armored vehicles, and refurbished helicopters on top of two warships it reportedly already plans to buy.
The Defense Department is set to buy 15 fixed-wing aircraft, 28 M113 armored personnel carriers, and 21 refurbished Huey helicopters, an official of DND who refused to be named for lack of authority told GMA News Online in a phone interview on Thursday.
DND’s seeming shopping spree of vehicles are part of its Revised Modernization Program, the source said. The program has a P85.3-billion fund that can be used within a five-year period from 2013 to 2017.  
The P882-million contract for the procurement of the APCs was awarded last week, the source said.
The contract included the purchase of four infantry-fighting M113s, four armored-recovery M113s, six armored personnel carrier M113s, and 14 fire-support M113s.
The APCs, which have been used by militaries since the 1960s, are expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2015.
Meanwhile, the contracts for the refurbished helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are still in the pipeline of negotiations.
In a text message to GMA News Online, Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces public affairs chief, confirmed the Defense department is eyeing the purchase of two warships, worth P75 billion, for the Navy.
“That is part of our minimum credible defense stated in our modernization and capability upgrade program.  The two additional frigates are already up for bidding at DND BAC (Department of Defense bids and awards committee),” he said.
An earlier report on daily Philippine Star said the Defense department is eyeing two ships from the United States under the $40-million military assistance pledge made by US Secretary of State John Kerry last December.
The country has acquired two former US Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutters—BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz—that have since been commissioned into the Philippine fleet. The Philippine Navy classifies them as Del Pilar-class frigates.

NorthCot to conduct consultations on GPH-MILF peace process

From MindaNews (Jan 16): NorthCot to conduct consultations on GPH-MILF peace process

The provincial government of North Cotabato will hold massive consultations regarding the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the area, Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said.

She said the consultations will be conducted in partnership with the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), a grassroots network of Moro, Christian and Lumad leaders in Mindanao.

Mendoza bared the plan on Wednesday during a consultation for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) at the Southern Christian College here.

She said the consultations will serve as venue “to spread correct information to avoid what had happened in 2008,” when war broke out in some parts of the island, including North Cotabato, due to the botched signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which the Supreme Court later ruled unconstitutional.

“It is our dream and that of our forefathers to have lasting peace in our midst…. In line with that, we will conduct consultations with the MPC in every district of the province,” Mendoza said.

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) has started drafting the BBL as the GPH and MILF move closer to forging a final peace agreement.

Mendoza said the consultations would help the provincial government come up with a stance it would submit to the BTC for consideration in the drafting of the Bangsamoro charter.

Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, MPC secretary general, lauded the provincial government for being supportive in the quest for just and lasting peace in Mindanao.

She said the consultations, aside from gathering proposals for possible inclusion in the BBL, seek to inform the general public on the gains of the GPH-MILF peace talks.

Last October, the BTC signed a memorandum of agreement with the Mindanao Civil Society Organizations Peace Platform (MCSOPP), which is composed of 120 groups and networks, for the conduct of public consultation involving the drafting of the BBL.
The Civil Peace Service, one of the groups under the MCSOPP, organized the BBL consultation here on Wednesday.

Arnado explained that the BBL will generally be based on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its four annexes on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, Revenue Sharing and Wealth Generation, Power Sharing and Normalization.

The FAB, signed on October 15, 2012 in Malacañang by the government and the MILF, envisions the creation of a Bangsamoro government that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2016.

Except the normalization annex, the GPH and MILF peace panels signed the three other annexes in separate occasions last year in Malaysia, the third party facilitator.
Both parties expect to sign the normalization annex and the addendum on Bangsamoro waters this month.

DND chief upbraids China over fishing law

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 17): DND chief upbraids China over fishing law

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin yesterday took a more strident tone against China’s new fishing policy in the disputed South China Sea or West Philippine Sea, criticizing Beijing for imposing its projected superpower stature on small countries like the Philippines.

Under the new China policy, foreign fishing vessels must seek permission from Chinese authorities before they could venture in the disputed territory which is a traditional rich fishing ground for fishermen from various countries around the region.

“We will not follow their rules in our own territory. Why should we seek permission from another country when they do not own our fishing grounds, it’s ours,” he stressed.

Chinese latest aggressive move in the South China Sea has drawn attention from some United States lawmakers who called for sanctions against China.

Prior to the new fishing policy, China also implemented its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea where it has a standing dispute with Japan over Senkaku Island.

The ADIZ was met with criticisms by the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia, which responded by sending aircraft within the zone.

Gazmin expressed support to the US move.

“There is really a need to show strength because China has been very aggressive lately. It started with ADIZ, then these fishing laws. Somebody has to say, ‘Hey, slow down,’ and no one can do that except a superpower,” he said.

“China is projecting that it is a superpower but it is applying its being a superpower to small countries like us that have no chance fighting militarily. So, we need somebody or a big county to say ‘that should not be done,’” Gazmin added.

The Defense chief said the DND, through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), is ready to provide escort, if necessary, to Filipino fishermen who would venture into the fishing ground.

“If necessary,” replied Gazmin when asked if the government is ready to escort Filipino fishermen, adding “as of now, we are seeking clarification regarding their (China) rules.”

Earlier, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the new Chinese policy extends up to Philippine territory.

The DFA added Filipinos should ignore the new Chinese fishing law in the disputed sea.

Tension between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea has been high during the past years as Beijing increased its activities in the region. Chinese vessels, both military and civilians, have become common sights in areas occupied by the Philippines like the Ayungin Shoal in Palawan.

The Chinese have not left Panatag Shoal off Masinloc town in Zambales since 2012.
The DND, however, has started building up the capability of the AFP since 2011 following alarming number of incursions into Philippine territories by Chinese ships in the disputed area.

But it stressed the ongoing modernization and capability upgrade of the AFP is not intended to any particular country, including China.

Meanwhile, the DND will be putting up Air Force facilities in Tawi-Tawi and Palawan to protect the Malampaya gas project, the Reed Bank and the future Sulu oil rig from “harassment.”

“The plan is to upgrade the capability requirements of the PAF and improve the operational effectiveness by constructing hangars and facilities as support systems to sustain search and rescue operations of the PAF and support the maritime security and protection of the Malampaya natugal gas-to-power project, Reed Bank and the future Sulu oil rig,” the DND stated.

The Reed Bank, which is among the islands and reefs being claimed by China in the South China Sea, is venue to the ongoing oil exploration project sanctioned by the Department of Energy (DoE).

At the Sulu Sea, there is also an ongoing exploration project sanctioned by the Philippine government while Malampaya, which also lies in the disputed sea, has been in full operation for several years now.

CPP commiserates with hundreds of thousands of calamity victims in Mindanao and Visayas

Propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Jan 16): CPP commiserates with hundreds of thousands of calamity victims in Mindanao and Visayas

Communist Party of the Philippines
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) commiserates with hundreds of thousands of victims of widespread floods and landslides in large parts of Mindanao and parts of the Visayas resulting in damage to properties and crops and further economic hardships to the people.

A low pressure area has caused continuous rains which have lasted for more than a week. The non-stop rains has swelling of overly-silted rivers flooding residential areas, agricultural fields, roads and other infrastructure. Among the areas flooded are the fields where victims of the recent supertyphoon Yolanda have setup tents.

According to reports by concerned units of the CPP and commands of the NPA, local Party branches and NPA Red fighters, barrio and inter-barrio revolutionary committees and mass organizations have been mobilized to extend emergency assistance to the people victimized by the calamity.

The CPP said the widespread floods is a result of the massive deforestation of Mindanao and siltation of rivers and other water systems. The grave destruction of the environment is a result of continuing large-scale logging, mining and plantation operations which started since the advent of US colonial rule.

“The past and current Philippine governments should be made responsible for the massive environmental destruction in Mindanao and the rest of the country,” said the CPP. “Up to now, the reactionary Aquino regime continues to encourage the entry of foreign big capitalists to engage in the destruction and plunder of the environment. Nor has the Aquino regime engaged in any form of environmental regeneration to prevent the destructive effects of rains.”

“It is thus completely just and necessary for the victims of the calamity to demand compensation in the form of emergency food rations, economic assistance and economic reparations. They must make the Aquino regime responsible for its failure to guarantee the safety and security of the people against the floods and landslides,” said the CPP.

“They must condemn the continuing pro-mining, pro-plantation and pro-logging policy of the Aquino regime and struggle vigorously to drive away the large-scale plunderers and destructors of the environment and the people’s livelihood,” said the CPP.

“They must expose the bureaucratic anomalies in relief and rehabilitation work and echo the appeal for foreign governments and international aid organizations to avoid coursing their assistance to the corruption-infested Aquino regime,” said the CPP.
 “The people must build their autonomous civil defense and disaster response organizations to facilitate the entry of international aid that are extended directly to the ground.”

“For its part, the revolutionary forces are being mobilized to carry-out relief work in the areas affected by the flooding and landslides. The revolutionary committees under the people’s democratic government are tasked to facilitate the entry and distribution of emergency supplies to the affected areas,” said the CPP. “People in villages with communal farms administered by their own revolutionary government who have surplus harvests to spare can extend emergency food assistance to other affected villages,” pointed out the CPP.

CPP: CPP laughs off AFP claim of wiping out NPA in Pampanga

Propaganda  statement posted to the CPP Website (Jan 16): CPP laughs off AFP claim of wiping out NPA in Pampanga

Communist Party of the Philippines
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today dismissed claims by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that it has decimated the New People’s Army (NPA) in Pampanga, asserting that NPA units are operating in the outskirts and that revolutionary base organizing work continues to be carried out in the province.

“The fact is, since 2010, the NPA in Central Luzon tactically shifted its forces to focus on building its guerrilla base areas in the mountainous areas of the region. Its forces in the Pampanga plains were temporarily redeployed, not so much as a result of AFP operations, but as a planned course of action in line with building the base areas.”

The CPP said units of the NPA have been building base areas in the the Sierra Madre mountain range straddling Eastern Bulacan, Aurora and Nueva Ecija, the Zambales-Tarlac-Pangasinan mountain ranges as well as the mountainous and coastal areas of Bataan to Bulacan. From the mountainous base areas, cadres of the CPP and Red fighters continue to deploy units to the plains of Pampanga, as well as in other provinces to build CPP branches and revolutionary mass organizations.

“Using the guerrilla base areas as rear, and with the help of the peasant masses in the plains, the NPA command in the Central Luzon can launch regular and special tactical offensives in Pampanga and elsewhere when the enemy least expects it, starting with weak and detached units of the AFP and PNP, the armed goons and security agencies of the big landlords and big compradors in order to disarm these and disable them from further causing harm against the people.”

The CPP contradicted the statement by the AFP that Pampanga is now poised for economic progress. The statement of the AFP that the province is “ready for further development” is simply “an invitation for foreign companies and their local partners to grab land and oppress and exploit the working class and peasantry.”

“The workers and peasant masses of Pampanga province continue to suffer from intolerably oppressive and exploitative conditions in the big haciendas, sugar centrals, in the lahar quarrying areas, as well as in the so-called special economic zones,” said the CPP. “Tens of thousands of peasant masses are being displaced as a result of widespread land grabbing by big landlords and so-called developers who are in league with the ruling Aquino regime.”

“A case in point is that of Hacienda Dolores in Porac town where thousands of peasant families are being driven away from their land by the big comprador-owned Ayala Land and its cohorts by using the military and police to suppress the peasant masses,” said the CPP. Just last Sunday, a peasant leader, Arman Padino, was killed, and another wounded, after being fired upon by the armed goons of the Ayalas. Peasant activists who oppose the landgrabbing by the Ayalas are being subjected harassed both with trumped up criminal cases and armed threats.

“The peasants and workers of Pampanga continue to wage mass struggles to advance their democratic cause and are ever desirous of waging revolutionary armed struggle. Their best sons and daughters continue to join the New People’s Army.”

AFP Chief: Gov't fast-tracking acquisition of modern naval vessels, aircraft

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): AFP Chief: Gov't fast-tracking acquisition of modern naval vessels, aircraft

Recognizing that the Philippines is facing many security threats, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista on Wednesday said that the government is fast-tracking the acquisition of modern naval vessels and aircraft that will boost the country's defense capabilities.

"Within the last year, we realized that there is a real threat out there in terms of securing, defending our territory and we need to be very conscious about that," he said.

Aside from security threats, calamities exemplified by Supertyphoon "Yolanda" showed the urgency for the government to really finally conclude internal security issues.

".. . so that the military can focus on more pressing concerns particularly defending the nation's territory and threats brought about by climate change," the AFP chief stressed.

Bautista added that the ongoing AFP modernization is geared towards addressing all of those issues that the Philippines faces.

The military is currently in the process of acquiring major mission essential equipment like fighters, lead in (jet) trainers, frigates, and strategic sealift vessels.

He pointed out that in 2013, the AFP acquired a lot of equipment like heavy duty cargo trucks that were used during the disaster response operations in areas devastated by "Yolanda" and three new naval helicopters alongside with the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16).

"It's part of the plan, in fact we are acquiring, we're bidding now two frigates... and so we will acquire them in a couple of years," Bautista disclosed.

2 more rebels surrender to 60th Infantry Battalion

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): 2 more rebels surrender to 60th Infantry Battalion

Two more New People's Army (NPA) fighters voluntarily surrendered to the Eastern Mindanao Command's 60th Infantry Battalion which was on "peace and development" missions in Barangay Suawon, New Corella town, Davao Del Sur Tuesday morning.

Capt. Alberto Caber, the command's spokesperson, identified the surrenderees as Ronnie Lantayona Andoy and Ryan Buca Metoda.

Both men surrendered to 60th Infantry Battalion troopers around 10 a.m.

The two revealed that they were members of the NPA Sandatahang Yunit Propaganda (SYP), Front 33, of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC) operating in Davao Del Norte.

The surrenderees claimed that they were tasked to recruit new members and assist the armed group in attacking civilians and properties.

They confessed that they can no longer take the anti-people and deception works of their NPA leaders like burning of construction equipment used in government projects for the localities.

“Conscience brought these NPA sub leaders to return to the folds of the law as our people are aware of their anti-people works. Our AFP and PNP units are always ready to assist in their surrender even without firearms but they should have brought their firearms so that they will have something to start when they are reunited with their families. Every M16 rifle they bring in is paid with equivalent amount per our guns for peace program," Eastern Mindanao Command head Lt. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz said.

DND inks contract for 28 Israeli-made 'armored infantry fighting vehicles

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): DND inks contract for 28 Israeli-made 'armored infantry fighting vehicles

The Department of National Defense (DND) has formally signed the contact for the delivery of 28 "armored infantry fighting vehicles" which will boost the inventory of the Army's light armored units.

DND Assistant Secretary Patrick Velez said that this project is worth P882 million. He said the contract was already signed last week.

He added that the contract was awarded to Israeli's leading defense manufacturer, Elbit Systems Land and C4I.

Four of the 28 "armored infantry fighting vehicles" are recovery models which can be used to tow units damaged or incapacitated in the battlefield.

For security reasons, Velez declined to give specifics of the vehicles' armament, speed and armor but stressed that these armored infantry fighting vehicles "are very capable."

Full delivery of these vehicles is expected within a year or around January 2015.

The PA, which has around 10 infantry divisions, is equipped with 343 AFVs (armored fighting vehicles).

Capt. Anthony Bacus, Army spokesperson, said earlier that these AFVs are distributed to the various infantry units to provide them with mobility and additional firepower.

"Around 85 percent of these AFVs are on green status (fully mission capable) while another 10 percent are on yellow status (undergoing repair) and five percent are on red (beyond repair)," he added.

Some 150 of these are the United Kingdom-built GKN "Simba" with the remaining AFVs consisting of US designed V-150 and V-200 APCs, M-113 "Bradley", Turkish made ACV-300s and British Scorpion CVRTs.

These AFVs give the PA dependable armor capability and are organized into a 14-vehicle mechanized infantry companion for deployment with regular units.

PA's 4th Infantry Division successfully tests 'improvised rescue boat'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): PA's 4th Infantry Division successfully tests 'improvised rescue boat'

In line with its community development and disaster response mission, the Cagayan De Oro City-based 4th Infantry Division has successfully tested its "improvised rescue boat" during emergency drills at the Libertad River in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte.

The improvised watercraft, made from old plastic drums and metal sheet, is equipped with a motor engine, giving it the capability to maneuver.

The successful river test was conducted by troopers of the 402nd Infantry Brigade and officials of the Butuan City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

“We are very thankful for this innovation from the Philippine Army because it is very useful, especially that most of the areas affected by floods are barangays near Agusan River and coastal areas," BCDRRMO head Gracia Q. Burdeous-Espere said.

The improvised rescue boat is now being utilized by the Butuan City disaster response units and personnel from the 29th Infantry Battalion and Philippine National Police-Butuan.

14 of Israeli-built armored units to act as 'fire support vehicles' --DND

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): 14 of Israeli-built armored units to act as 'fire support vehicles' --DND

The Department of National Defense said on Thursday that 14 out of the 28 "armored infantry fighting vehicles" ordered by the military from Israel will be acting as "fire support vehicles" for the Philippine Army.

These units will be equipped with the 76mm cannons taken from decommissioned Scorpion CVRTs (combat vehicle reconnaissance tracked), according to DND Assistant Secretary Patrick Velez.

These vehicles will also be fitted with modern fire control and thermal equipment, Velez said.

Aside from "fire support units," six of the Israeli-built armored vehicles are classified as "armored personnel carrier" models, four as "infantry fighting vehicles" and the remaining four as "recovery and repair" units.

The contract for the armored units, which is worth P888 million, was awarded to Israeli's leading defense manufacturer, Elbit Systems Land and C4I, last week.

For security reasons, Velez declined to give other specifics but stressed that these armored vehicles "are very capable."

Full delivery of the vehicles is expected within a year or around January 2015.

The PA, which has around 10 infantry divisions, is equipped with 343 AFVs (armored fighting vehicles).

Capt. Anthony Bacus, Army spokesperson, said earlier that these AFVs are distributed to the various infantry units to provide them with mobility and additional firepower.

"Around 85 percent of these AFVs are on green status (fully mission capable) while another 10 percent are on yellow status (undergoing repair) and five percent are on red (beyond repair)," he added.

Some 150 of these are the United Kingdom-built GKN "Simba," with the remaining AFVs consisting of United States-designed V-150 and V-200 APCs, M-113 "Bradley," Turkish-made ACV-300s and British Scorpion CVRTs.

These AFVs give the PA dependable armor capability and are organized into a 14-vehicle mechanized infantry companion for deployment with regular units.

DND willing to escort Filipino fishermen

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): DND willing to escort Filipino fishermen

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday said they would be more than willing to escort Filipino fishermen who earlier expressed fears that their fishing grounds would be included in the zone which China stressed permission was needed before any foreign vessel could enter.

"If the fishing area is in Philippine territory, we will not follow their rules," he added.

Gazmin also stressed that they were still waiting for China to issue a clarification regarding the above-mentioned China statement.

And if needed, the DND chief said that they would be more than willing to escort Filipino fishermen for them to continue to make a decent living.

"Why do we need to get permission from them if the fishing area is within our territory," the DND chief stressed.

The Philippines and other ASEAN countries are at odds with China regarding territorial claims on the fish and possibly oil rich waters of the South China Sea.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez earlier said that they are verifying the above-mentioned report in its Beijing and Hanoi embassies.

The order was reportedly issued by Hainan provincial government and took effect last January 1st.

Under the regulation, foreign vessels entering the waters, which was declared by China as part of Hainan’s administrative maritime zone, are required to seek approval from Chinese authorities.

Funds now ready for PHL's 'Light Reaction Regiment' --DND

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): Funds now ready for PHL's 'Light Reaction Regiment' --DND

Department of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Thursday that funds for the country's newly-activated "Light Reaction Regiment" are now ready.

He added that this will be sourced from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program.

According to Gazmin, the "Light Reaction Regiment," which was activated on Thursday, will now be the premier Philippine unit against terrorist threats.

The DND chief said that the decision to expand the "Light Reaction Battalion" to the "Light Reaction Regiment" was brought about by the military's experience in the 21-day Zamboanga City siege where rogue Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters tried to take control of the city last September.

"We were sort of unprepared to meet that kind of threat in an urban setting, so we need a bigger unit to address this particular (threat)... We lacked personnel and we were forced to deploy the Rangers, Special Forces to augment the 'Light Reaction Battalion' during the Zamboanga City crisis," Gazmin added.

He also said that the "Light Reaction Regiment" will be also deployed to deal with the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The "Light Reaction Regiment" was formerly a "Light Reaction Battalion." It got its present designation after three more companies were added to the existing three.

The 4th Light Reaction Company is expected to be activated this year, while the 5th and 6th Light Reaction Companies will be formed not later than 2015.

A company is composed of 120 officers and men.

'No excuse not to pursue fine for Tubbataha damage'

From Rappler (Jan 16): 'No excuse not to pursue fine for Tubbataha damage'

Politics and questions of state immunity should not stop the Philippines from pursuing US government compensation for the damage caused by the Tubbataha Reefs grounding a year ago.

This was the demand of a petition filed by a group led by Puerto Princesa Bishop Pedro Arigo before the Supreme Court a day before the anniversary of the grounding of a US Navy ship into UNESCO Heritage Site Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Sulu Sea.

"Customary law and conventional international environmental law leave no room for questions of State immunity or jurisdiction. Nor is the case a political question subject to inaction by the Executive Department," according to the petition filed on Thursday, January 16.

The petition also called for Temporary Environmental Protection Orders (TEPOs) to prevent more damage to marine sanctuaries by US vessels.

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), US ships continue to make port calls in the Philippines, threatening sensitive marine resources in the area.

Despite saying it is "prepared to provide appropriate compensation" for the damage, the US has not paid the P58 million fine slapped by the Philippine government.

When the USS Guardian rammed into the world-famous marine park and protected area on January 17, 2013, it obliterated around 2,345.67 square meters of the reef.
But advocates say the damage goes beyond pulverized corals. The grounding also adversely affected the livelihood of fishermen who depend on the reef's abundant natural resources.

Moving past the SC case

In April that year, Arigo and company filed a petition before the Supreme Court demanding compensation and the prosecution of USS Guardian officials.

The pending case has been cited by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) as the reason why ongoing talks with the US government on the issue were called off.
Communications Secretary Herminio Colomo Jr on Thursday echoed the DFA.

He said that after the US signified its willingness to pay the fine, "a Writ of Kalikasan was issued, requiring submissions to the Supreme Court, thereby resulting in the deferment of the resolution of the compensation issue."

But the new petition said that the pending SC case should not be an excuse to stop pursuing compensation. Greater laws compel the US to give compensation, it said.
The Polluter Pays Principle, for example, under international environmental law establishes that "the US Respondents must pay for the environmental restoration and reparation at the sites already damaged" and "they must assume responsibility for future environmental damage in the Philippines," according to the petition.

International agreements like the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment – both United Nations covenants – assert that it is the duty of all countries to avoid transboundary harm, or inflicting environmental harm to other nations or territories.

Revisit the Visiting Forces Agreement

Petitioners also asked the SC to stop US ships from docking into Philippine ports or conducting military exercises unless the VFA is modified to contain environmental guidelines and mechanisms to punish violators.

Guidelines should include the restriction of military exercises in areas with abundant marine reserves, a 24-kilometer safety zone from any blast or blast radius and responsive measures in case of environmental damage.

Philippine officials should actively pursue compensation and begin administrative and criminal proceedings against the US respondents, said the petition. The respondents include Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, among others.

Anything less than decisive action is a form of surrender, wrote the petitioners.
If the USS Guardian is allowed to get away with the damage "then the Republic of the Philippines is sending a message to the world that any visiting State, clandestine entry or not, may be at liberty to cast aside internationally wrongful acts."

US says near collision in South China Sea due to Chinese 'inexperience'

From InterAksyon (Jan 16): US says near collision in South China Sea due to Chinese 'inexperience'

Chinese operational inexperience and communications difficulties on both sides contributed to a near-collision between the USS Cowpens and a Chinese warship in the South China Sea last month, the head of US forces in the Asia-Pacific said on Wednesday.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of US Pacific Command, told a Navy conference the Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser, was monitoring China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, as it conducted operations in international waters for the first time when the incident occurred.

The Cowpens was approached on December 5 by a Chinese warship that maneuvered in front of it at a distance of about 500 meters, forcing the US vessel to take evasive action to avoid a collision, defense officials said.

"I believe that there was ... a lack of experience on some of their smaller ships and I think we have to understand that for now," Locklear told the Surface Navy Association during a question and answer session at its national symposium.

"Our COs (commanding officers), they operate globally. They know how to manage across numerous scenarios. ... Our PLA (People's Liberation Army) counterparts are just starting to do this," he said.

Language barriers were also a factor, Locklear said, with US sailors hailing the Chinese ship in English and the Chinese having to address the Americans in sometimes limited English.

"You don't know how that translation comes across," he said.

Locklear said the Navy had taken a "hard look" at what triggered the incident and communicated frankly with the Chinese about it. Each side understands the other's viewpoint, he said.

"The bottom line ... is to make sure that all parties of the world understand ... that we operate freely in international waters and that ... we will act professionally, and that we'll act respectfully ... and not in a dangerous way unless necessary and we expect that of other navies as well," Locklear said.

The Pacific Command chief said China's recent test of a hypersonic missile was a demonstration of Beijing's ability to rapidly roll out new technologies.

"They're better at that than we are. They get to it faster. Of course they have different processes that allow them to get to it faster," he said.

Locklear said he was not particularly concerned about the Chinese test. But with many countries working on hypersonic systems, the technology would inevitably proliferate and confront the US Navy at some place in the world, he said.

Although China has rattled its neighbors by making aggressive territorial claims and building up its military might, Locklear said it was important to encourage China to "come into the security environment as a productive member."

"I think we should be more optimistic about the future of China," he said. "It doesn't mean we should be Pollyannaish either."

The admiral said US military planners had been thinking for a long time about how China would emerge as a world leader, a global economic power and a contributor to world security.

"China is going to rise. We've all known this for a long time," he said. "That's yet to play out. But the goal, the PaCom (Pacific Command) goal, my goal, is for China to eventually be a net provider of security and not a net user of security."