Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bishops score US military, companies for ‘serious harm’ caused to Filipinos

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 18): Bishops score US military, companies for ‘serious harm’ caused to Filipinos

An ecumenical group of Catholic and Protestant bishops said at the end of a five-day gathering that US military personnel stationed in the Philippines and some US companies have caused harm to both host Filipino communities and the environment.

The Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum (EBF), formed in 1984 among Catholic and Protestant prelates to protest the dictatorship of then-Ferdinand Marcos, said at the concluding day of their summit here that the US “has not stopped in their intervention in the internal affairs of the Philippines and other sovereign nations.”
“We are condemning this policy of the United States in continuing to dictate in the affairs of our government,” retired Caloocan Catholic Bishop Deogracias S. Yniguez told the BusinessMirror shortly before they finalized the joint statement they would be presenting to local media reporters.
Yniguez is the co-chairman of the EBF, along with Bishop Felixberto L. Calang of the Cagayan de Oro City diocese of the Iglesia Filipino Independiente, or the Aglipayan Church.
Yniguez said the statement would also collectively demand for the Philippine government to review its relation and dealings with the US government in light of what the EBF said were repeated reports and complaints of abuses caused by US military forces, and even by Filipino military personnel providing security to US mining and agricultural plantation companies.
In its statement, the EBF said it was “calling the attention of the Philippine government and the representatives of the USA in the Philippines that serious harm is daily being caused to the people in the Philippines and to our environment by the activities of the US military and US-linked transnational corporations.”
“We offer as recent evidence these examples, which we heard through personal testimony,” the statement said, as it enumerated testimonies of plantation workers of an American-owned pineapple plantation outside General Santos City, residents and local officials of a mining company in Pantukan, Compostela Valley, and the women in towns and cities where US troops were stationed.
Plantation workers, for instance, told bishops who visited them on field on Tuesday that they were hired on contractual arrangement “with low wages and little security.”
“Its agricultural practices are damaging the environment and endangering people and the land by using GMO [genetically modified organisms] technology, which has been insufficiently tested on human beings and is strongly questioned by reputable scientists.”
The operation of the American-owned mining company, the EBF said, “is causing serious loss of land, work and income to small-scale miners in the places where it operates.”
On the US military forces stationed in various places outside the US, the EBF said “this presence has various impacts on the local population, not least by exploiting local women and girls for the recreation of US personnel.”
“We conclude that the above abuses by business organizations are not isolated mistakes but systemic harm done to the people,” the group said, adding that the practice stemmed “from conducting businesses in ways that are short-sighted and mainly profit-based without long-term vision that considers the common good of the local people or of the nation.”
The EBF sent many of its 44 participants, including visiting Catholic and Protestant bishops from Canada, Sri Lanka, South India, Norway and Australia, to the Pantukan mining area of an American company, the pineapple plantation in Polomolok, South Cotabato, and to the alleged US facilities in General Santos City.
The other bishops were unable to meet with this city’s Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, but the EBF extended its “full support” to the earlier position of the mayor rejecting the purported plan of the regional office here of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to rent US spy drones to take aerial photographs and visual mapping of the areas damaged in December 2012 by Typhoon Pablo.
The DENR later belied the story and clarified that it was using the remote-controlled miniature drones developed by the Ateneo de Manila University.
The EBF urged the Philippines “to stand firmly on the principle of sovereignty and move toward excluding all US military activity in the land and sea, saying that the repeated rejection by Davao City to any joint military exercises should be emulated.
The EBF asked US and other foreign companies “to abide by the principles and legal restrictions in their countries of origin.”
Yniguez also told BusinessMirror that the Philippine government “must review its position and policies relating to the US military forces by the mere fact that the nation already removed the bases by Senate action.”
“It should respect that move,” he said.
Bishop Dhiloraj of the Anglican Church of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, told the BusinessMirror that he found “inspiration in the move of the EBF in confronting the interventionist action of the US.”
“I feel connected with all the people here,” he said. “If we analyze how bishops here are reacting to it, I can also see similar scenes in my country, where the US is accusing and polarizing its relation with my government.”
“The US and my government are not in good terms, because how can it accuse my country of human-rights abuses when it is committing the same complaints of human-rights abuses in the other countries of the world?” he said.
He said his government has since issued a policy of seeking amicable relations with other countries “that do not have good relations with the US.”
He said the US may not look approvingly at Sri lanka’s foreign relation with Iran and Libya, “but our government is trying to send the US a message.”
“I felt inspired, and it is encouraging to note how the Catholic Church [in the Philippines] is responding and trying to find a solution,” he said.

Defense officials sign deal with ex-putschists’ group

From the Business Mirror (Jan 19): Defense officials sign deal with ex-putschists’ group

THE Department of National Defense (DND) has signed an agreement with a former group of soldiers that rebelled against the Arroyo administration to monitor the projects of the DND, including those for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Undersecretary Fernando Manalo, representing the DND, signed the memorandum of understanding with Segundino Orfiano, president of the Samahang Magdalo Inc. for the latter’s group to sit as an independent observer in the DND’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC).
Previously, the Coalition Against Corruption (CAC), acted as a third- party observer within the BAC.
The CAC questioned one of the DND’s projects, the acquisition of P1.7 billion worth of armor vest for the Army and the Marines, after defense officials moved to entertain the bid of the second-lowest bidder.
CAC members include the following: Ateneo School of Government; the Makati Business Club; the Transparency and Accountability Network; and, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Leaders of these groups believed the lowest bidder should get the project.
The DND is currently attempting to modernize the military by acquiring billions of pesos worth of helicopters, vessels, fighter jets, armaments and military hardware.
Under the deal, the DND and the Magdalo agreed to “uphold and advance the principles of good governance, particularly the promotion of transparency, competitiveness and accountability in the procurement” of projects, goods and consulting services by the DND.
As such, the Magdalo will monitor all stages of the bidding process, particularly pre-procurement and pre-bid conferences, opening of bids, post-qualification, contract awarding, special meetings, post-delivery testing, inspection and acceptance, and other procedures that may apply.
Manalo said he sees the agreement “as a timely venture” as the defense department is upgrading the capability of the Armed Forces.
He said in a statement on January 19 that the DND-BAC officials “are doing their best to fast-track acquisitions, while fully adhering to the established rules and procedures set by the law.”
“There should be nothing that will prevent you from doing your job as observers.  Your responsibility is to our country and to our people,” Manalo reportedly told the officers of the Magdalo.

Peace accord with MILF seen to boost Mindanao democracy

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 19): Peace accord with MILF seen to boost Mindanao democracy
Malacañang on Sunday is looking forward to an official peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, saying that the accord could boost democracy in Mindanao after generations of unrest with armed insurgents.

Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said in a radio interview that the government and the MILF are hopeful that an agreement would be reached to end the conflict in Mindanao.

“It could be the final round of talks between the government and the MILF,” Coloma said.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said last December that the MILF and the group would finalize the remaining Annex on Normalization and the addendum on the Bangsamoro waters.

It said that the Normalization Annex would solidify the vision for a post-conflict Bangsamoro.

With NPA’s strength, peace talks an option for next president–Sison

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 20): With NPA’s strength, peace talks an option for next president–Sison

CPP founder Jose Maria Sison: Looking forward to resumption of peace talks. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Whoever will succeed President Aquino in 2016 should seriously consider the resumption of the aborted peace negotiation between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the self-exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said Monday.

“Whoever is the next president, he or she will consider peace negotiations as an option in the face of the worsening social and political crisis and the growing strength of the people’s armed revolutionary movement for national liberation and democracy,” Jose Maria Sison, also the NDFP consultant, said in an interview through Facebook.

The NDFP is the political arm of the CPP. Its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), has been waging war against the government for the past 44 years, considered as the world’s longest-running communist rebellion.

In its 45th-anniversary statement last month, the CPP said it aimed to increase its armed combatants to 25,000.

The military declined to provide specific figures on the NPA armed combatants but are convinced that the communist rebels are only less than 4,000 as of the end of 2013.

Still most potent security challenge

But on Friday, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan admitted that communist insurgency still remains the “most potent internal security challenge” to the country’s internal security and peace efforts of the government.

The CPP founder, now based in Utrecht, declined to comment when asked who between presidential contenders Vice President Jejomar Binay and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, if elected, would likely call for the reopening of the peace talks.

“As chief political consultant of the NDFP in peace negotiations, I am not in the business or game of publicly estimating or predicting who is the next GPH (Government of the Philippines) president,” Sison explained.

Sison said: “The NDFP does not take responsibility for the decision of the current or next president of the GPH to resume the peace negotiations or not.”

This correspondent asked Sison what the minimum demands of the NDFP to the government are for the rebels to return to the peace negotiation table.

“The NDFP is not asking for anything outside of the existing agreements and is not offering anything outside of the same agreements, which have been mutually approved and signed,” Sison stressed.

Sison insisted that “it is the Aquino regime that has run away from peace negotiations.”

He warned that no one “should not make it appear that the NDFP is begging for any favor from a reactionary government that refuses to fulfill its obligations and dishonors its own signature on solemnly made agreements.”

Still open to peace negotiations

Sison maintained that the resumption of the peace negotiation rests with the government respect and compliance of all signed agreements between state representatives and the NDFP.

“The NDFP can resume peace negotiations even with the Aquino regime if it shows respect for and complies with existing agreements,” Sison said.

He said the agreements require that the government “fulfill its obligations regarding the substantive agenda of the negotiations, the safety and immunity guarantees for NDFP peace consultants and the release of political prisoners falsely accused of common crimes.”

“These are not unilateral demands or preconditions by the NDFP. They are obligations of the GPH stipulated by agreements between the GPH and NDFP,” he insisted.

According to NDFP records, more than 10 significant peace agreements have been signed and approved by the principals of both Parties since 1992.
Among these are The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, the Joint Agreement  on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG, 1995) and The Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL, 1998).

Sison maintained that it was the Aquino administration and not the NDFP that ended the peace talks.

“The Aquino regime is responsible for paralyzing the peace negotiations by refusing to comply with these agreements. The Aquino regime is responsible for blocking the peace negotiations and is in contempt of the people who desire a just and lasting peace,” Sison said as he noted that it was the government that announced last April that it had terminated the peace negotiation.

Late last month, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita “Ging” Deles, declared that the Aquino administration was not yet closing its door to forge a peaceful solution to end the four decades of communist-led rebellion.

She vowed that the government would continue to seek ways to end the armed conflict.

The communist brushed aside Deles declaration as mere empty peace gestures that only aimed to cover up the widespread military abuses.

The NDFP had been engaged in peace negotiation with the government for the past 27 years. But the on and off peace talks have not moved beyond minor agreements.

In February 2011, the two parties met again in Norway but failed to reach a settlement particularly on issues over the release of detained communist rebels and long ceasefire.

CPP/Sine Proletaryo: Video -- Istatus EV

Posted to the CPP Website by Sine Proletaryo (Jan 18): Video: Istatus EV


Sine Proletaryo presents "Istatus:EV". Istatus:EV is the second in a series of video features which present the situation and victories achieved by the CPP in the different regions in the Philippines, as well as the challenges confronting the revolutionary forces in further advancing the people's war. Istatus:EV presents an interview with Fr. Santiago Salas, spokesman of the National Democratic Front in Eastern Visayas.

Army Condemns NPA Atrocities

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Jan 20): Army Condemns NPA Atrocities

Due to series of attacks on innocent civillians by the New People’s Army (NPA), Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, commanding officer, 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army stationed at Camp Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz, condemns such acts which he said is in violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).

According to Maj. Ray Tiongson, Chief Public Affairs Office of the 3rd ID, MG Baladad condemns to the highest degree the killings of civilians by the NPAs.

The Army’s reports revealed that last January 16, 2014, four (4) armed members of the NPA believed to be under Magno Flores alias Vergo/Ladin, Commanding Officer of the Larangang Gerilya1 (LG1), shot on the head a certain Rolan Dadlis at Sitio Aguntilang 3, Brgy. Riverside, Isabela, Negros Occidental that caused his instant death.

Dadlis, 28 years old, married and resident of the place is a member of the Indigenous Peoples (IP) in Negros and depends only on farming as a livelihood for his family.

Revelations from the former rebels in Negros who have joined the mainstream society stated that Magno Flores carried out various atrocities of the NPA operating in Central Negros victimizing innocent civilians and destroying properties in the area.

It can be recalled that last January 27, 2013, the NPA under Flores staged an ambush in Brgy. Puso, La Castellana, Negros Occidental that resulted to the death of eight civilians and a member of the PNP.

Another civilian was killed by the NPA last Friday January 17, 2014 at Sitio Biasong, Brgy. Tayak, Siaton, Negros Oriental.

A certain Narciso Bantoto Jr, resident of said barangay was reportedly shot by the armed rebels while he was walking with his wife, three children and niece. The unharmed family members of the victim overheard the perpetrators saying that they are NPAs and they need to punish the victim.
"The killing of innocent civilians by the NPA is enough. Let us not allow more of these senseless attacks to continue. We call on the NPA to stop the killings and spare the innocent civilians as they are non-combatants," said MG Baladad.

He also said, the NPA’s attack on non-combatants is a clear violation of the CARHRIHL which the CPP/NPA/NDFP is a signatory.

The agreement was signed on March 16, 1998 in Hague, The Netherlands and was approved on April 10, 1998 by the NDFP National Council chairman Maria Orosa and on August 7 that year by then President Joseph Estrada. NDFP represents the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

CARHRIHL states that parties should affirm and apply the principles of international humanitarian law in order to protect the civilian population and individual civilians.

It also violates Republic Act 9851 or Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity, specifically Chapter III Section 4 c.5. – launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians.

The NDFP also declared on August 15, 1991 that it will adhere to the International Humanitarian Law.

Stipulated in Page 14 of the Philip Alston’s Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions states that "even casual Government informers, such as peasants who answer when asked by AFP soldiers to identify local CPP members or someone who calls the police when faced with NPA extortion, killing such individuals violates international law."

Hence, Baladad stressed that "the NPA’s ways of killing are inconsistent with international human rights and international law; hence must be condemned to full extent and must be stopped. The NPA has further alienated itself from the peace-loving people of Negros and insist on sowing fear and terror barring development from coming in."

Despite of this, the AFP and the PNP will continue to collaborate with the local government units, government agencies and other stakeholders to bring peace and development through "Bayanihan".

Instead, Baladad urges the NPAs to lay down their arms, abandon the armed struggle and join the society in bringing peace and development especially in the countryside."

Photo: 303rd Brigade, KASANAG Meeting

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Jan 20): Photo: 303rd Brigade, KASANAG Meeting

303RD BRIGADE, KASANAG MEETING. 303rd Army Brigade Commander Col. Jon Aying (4th from left) with other brigade officers, and non-government organization KASANAG founding president John Chiong (5th from left) and other officials met Thursday for projects like medical-dental missions, pro-environment tasks, etc. scheduled for this year, all aimed at helping more people here and in other places in the country.

MILF: Opening message of Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, during a courtesy call to North Cotabato Governor Lala Taliño-Mendoza

From the MILF Website (Jan 17): Opening message of Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, during a courtesy call to North Cotabato Governor Lala Taliño-Mendoza

We come here to you to bring the message of peace, and we take the first steps towards genuine reconciliation. Let us face the future with hope and determination and leave no stone unturned in our quest for the real and lasting peace in Mindanao.

Perhaps, some of you would meet my statements with doubts and reservations. I cannot blame those who harbor these ruffled sentiments, because even from among the people we represent, the Bangsamoro, there are also those who continue to feel animosity towards some people of North Cotabato Province. History has not really been so kind to us by making us a highly polarized peoples or nations.

In mainland Mindanao, no other province has seen the worst of war between “Christians” and “Muslims” than the Province of Cotabato. But being Christian or Muslim is incidental; the confrontation was not about religion; instead, religion was merely used to justify it.

Certainly, we cannot go on hating and hurting each other. At some point in time we have to come to terms with each other. We believe the time has come and it is now. And that is why we are here. We pay homage to North Cotabato Provincial Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza whose friendship and demonstrations of support to the peace process we have no reason to doubt. We also praise Vice Governor Gregorio Ipong, Congressman Pingping Tejada, as well as all the members of the Provincial Board of North Cotabato who are with us today for journeying with us in our quest for genuine peace in Mindanao. I also pay tribute to other leaders of this province who are not with us today but who are as supportive to the peace process as anyone of us, and to the thousands of men and women who work for peace, in whatever way possible. Pardon me for not being able to mention their names.

The crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is now at full speed. We in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission hope to finish it by April of this year and then submit it to President Benigno Aquino III, who in turn will transmit it to Congress as an urgent bill. We are very optimistic that the collective wisdom of Congress will ensure the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law without much hassle.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law is not only a document for the form of government that is to be established. By it, we would pursue the development that has long evaded us all; one that is for the people and friendly to the environment.

We have given our assurance to the non-Moros, the Christians and the Indigenous Peoples --- and I am reiterating it now --- that your basic rights, including all your vested property rights, will be protected. There is nothing to fear, because the future Bangsamoro Government is not vindictive or confiscatory in nature. We will approach the future and all the attending problems with utmost care, sensitivity, and understanding. We will ensure that the wheel of justice will run its course smoothly and justly. And we are not alone in the undertaking. We will always be in partner with the Central Government and all those who genuinely believe in and pursue the path of peace and reconciliation.

I appeal to you to be involved in the public consultations being organized by the Commission and civil society organizations. The people and all stakeholders, both rights-based and interests-based, have to be informed.

It is precisely for this reason that Bangsamoro Transition Commission has entered into agreements with more than one hundred civil society organizations in Mindanao and Manila, as well as with at least two international non-government organizations in order to conduct massive and sustained public engagements or consultations.

The Commission operates on the principles of inclusivity, transparency, and parity of esteem. We stand by these principles and we are committed to make them part of our way of life.

If by our visit here today we could have opened doors of reconciliation, then we would consider it as another humble contribution towards the genesis of a truly peaceful community for all of us.

Let us, therefore, give this peace process a chance to run its course and prove its worth. Let us also give the Bangsamoro all the chances to succeed and if in the end they fail, then they can blame no one but themselves.

Thank you very much, and good day to all!

[The opening message of Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, during their courtesy call to North Cotabato Governor Lala Taliño-Mendoza on January 16, 2014.]

MILF: Public consultations on BBL held in Lagunde, Pikit, North Cotabato

From the MILF Website (Jan 20): Public consultations on BBL held in Lagunde, Pikit, North Cotabato

Some 302 residents of Barangay Lagunde, Pikit, North Cotabato attended a public consultation on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) held at Madrasah Lagunde on January 17.
The consultation was spearheaded by the Barangay Local Government of Lagunde through Chairwoman Tarhata Suleik Karim in collaboration with Bantay Ceasefire volunteers of Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) and Oblate Missionary Foundation-Inter Religious Dialogue (OMF-IRD) of Pikit headed by Fr. Roberto “Bert” Layson, OMI.

The event aims to enlighten the grassroots and other stakeholders in the community and deepen their understanding on the importance of the BBL to all inhabitants of the future Bangsamoro government as envisioned in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

In her message, Chairwoman Suleik Karim called for unity and solidarity while the peace talks is at its crucial stage and the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is underway.

“We must be united. We must be cooperative in order to attain our aspiration for peace and self-determination for the Bangsamoro people.” she said

Jose “Bapa Joe” Akmad tearfully mentioned how the Bangsamoro people suffered from pain, hardships and abuses in the hands of aliens during the Spanish and American colonial era.

“There were countless of Moro people who perished defending their homeland, tradition, culture and Islam against the foreigners that even women and children were not spared by colonizers.” Akmad said “I am hopeful and very optimistic that the establishment of the Bangsamoro government would open the portal towards development as we see the end of conflict in Mindanao. By that time with the grace of Allah, there shall be no more mothers and children to suffer.

Datu Antonio Pin Kenoc, alternate member of the MILF peace panel representing the Indigenous people stressed the importance of educating the community (people) on the ministerial form of government.

“They (community) must be educated on the importance and advantage of the new system of government that would replace the current system of governance in the ARMM. This is also the concern of civil society organizations (CSOs)”, Kenoc said.

“The BBL will be the first of its kind to be drafted by the Moros themselves that will benefit them as well in contrast with previous laws that were imposed upon the Moros.” he added.

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is expected to finish the drafting of the law within this quarter of the year and shall be forwarded to President Benigno C. Aquino III for certification as urgent bill and indorse it to the Philippine Congress for enactment into law. It will then be ratified in a plebiscite by the people in the proposed region.

PAF to acquire 3 modern flight simulators for P246 M

From the Philippine Star (Jan 19): PAF to acquire 3 modern flight simulators for P246 M

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is acquiring three modern flight simulators for P246.4 million to help pilots operate efficiently the soon-to-be-delivered T-50 fighter jets from South Korea.

The Department of National Defense (DND) said it is bidding out the project designed to enhance the operational capability of the PAF.

“This will allow pilots an almost full sensory experience that can aid improving flight instruction, enhancing proficiency, minimizing risks associated with emergency procedures training, reducing accidents, filling up downtimes, and saving on aircraft operational and maintenance costs,” Defense Undersecretary Efren Fernandez, chair of the Bids and Award Committee for the project, said.

“The DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines now invite bids from eligible bidders for the Full Motion Flight Simulator Acquisition Project. Delivery of the goods is required within a period of 600 calendar days from the opening of the Letter of Credit (LC),” Fernandez said.

Sources said the government is set to acquire more fighter jets from other countries.

Prior to the opening of the bid for the simulator project on Feb. 10, a pre-bid conference will be held on Jan. 27 at the DND BAC Conference Room at Camp Aguinaldo.

“The DND and the AFP reserves the right to accept or reject any bid, to annul the bidding process, and to reject all bids at any time prior to the contract award, without thereby incurring any liability to the affected bidder or bidders,” Fernandez said.

The defense department is also bidding out a P149-million contract for the construction of Air Force facilities in Tawi-Tawi and Palawan as part of the military’s upgrade of its maritime defense and rescue capabilities in the West Philippine Sea and Sulu Sea.

The DND has also signed an P888-million contract with Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems Land and C41 for the acquisition of 28 armored infantry vehicles to boost the fighting capability of the 80,000-strong Philippine Army (PA).

Part of the project is retrofitting 24 of the army’s M113 armored personnel carriers with turrets from decommissioned Scorpion light reconnaissance tanks, transforming the M113s into fire support vehicles from merely “battle taxis.” Mounted on Scorpion’s turrets are 76mm cannon and 7.62mm machinegun.

The upgraded M113 fire support vehicle will also be equipped with a new fire control system and thermal imaging system.

Four of the M113s will have the capability of Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) armed with 25mm automatic cannons. Six will be equipped with additional .50 caliber heavy machineguns.

The M113s will also get upgrades on their armor protection and amphibious capability.

The Israeli firm will throw in, for free, four M113 armored recovery and repair vehicles.

The Army expects to roll out the 28 combat vehicles by January 2015, said Defense Undersecretary Patrick Velez. At present, the Army is heavily dependent on 105mm and 155mm howitzers in providing fire support for troops battling Abu Sayyaf terrorists or communist rebels.

DND taps Samahang Magdalo to keep an eye on military modernization

Fro GMA News (Jan 19): DND taps Samahang Magdalo to keep an eye on military modernization

The Department of National Defense has signed an agreement with a group of "reformist" officers that will help keep an eye on the military's modernization program.
In a statement, the Defense department said its partnership with Samahang Magdalo will help it oversee the P85.3-billion modernization effort of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Samahang Magdalo has been tapped to monitor the activities of the DND's Bids and Awards Committee, including pre-procurement and pre-bid conferences, the opening of bids, post-qualification, contract awarding, and all other aspects of the bidding process.
The modernization program, which started in 2013, will continue until 2017 and allocates P8.6 billion to the Army, P43.3 billion to the Air Force, P28.2 billion to the Navy, and P5.2 billion to the AFP's General Headquarters.
“There should be nothing that will prevent you from doing your job as observers.  Your responsibility is to our country and to our people,” Defense Undersecretary Ferdinand Manalo told Samahang Magdalo officers at the signing ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Both parties have commited to "uphold and advance the principles of good governance, particularly the promotion of transparency, competitiveness and accountability in the procurement of infrastructure projects, goods, and consulting services by the DND."

The DND is looking to buy two warships as well as airplanes, helicopters, and armored personnel carriers. It awarded a P882-million contract for 28 M113 APCs earlier this month.
Last December, former Local Government secretary Rafael Alunan asked President Benigno Aquino III to "cut the bureaucratic red tape" that has been holding up the modernization of the AFP.

Alunan said upgrading the military should be speeded up for the country to protect its "exclusive economic zone" and to "uphold our nation's dignity and honor."
“Buy brand new, off the shelf, if necessary, but if there are good bargains for existing assets for immediate transfer, please do not hesitate to grab these. Time is of the essence,” he said.
In 2013, Aquino reassured members of the AFP that modernization is still on track, even after rebalancing the government's budget. He added upgrading the military includes providing troops with benefits like a housing program for AFP and Philippine National Police personnel.
The Samahang Magdalo was formed by "reformist officers" of the AFP and calls itself a social justice group. Its political arm, the Magdalo party-list has two seats at the House of Representatives.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a Magdalo member and former Navy officer, is on his second term at the Senate.

Members of the Magdalo were involved in mutinies against then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2003 and 2007. Magdalo members also figured in a stand-off between some officers and men of the Philippine Marine Corps and government troops in 2006.
In 2010, President Benigno Aquino III signed Proclamation No. 75 granting amnesty to members of the Magdalo who joined the mutinies. Congress approved the proclamation.

Political detainees fast for peace consultant's release

From the Philippine Star (Jan 20): Political detainees fast for peace consultant's release

Political prisoners in Camp Crame, Quezon City have joined the  nationwide fasting against the conviction of peace consultant Eduardo Sarmiento, the rights group Karapatan said on Monday.

"Sarmiento was one-sidedly convicted guilty by Judge Myra Bayot-Quiambao of Muntinlupa RTC (Regional Trial Court) despite violations on the evidence’s (a single fragmentation grenade) chain of custody and questionable testimonies of the arresting officers," the Camp Crame political prisoners said in a statement.

Karapatan said that signatories of the statement include Sarmientos's  fellow political detainees Ramon Argente, Reynante Gamara and Eduardo Serrano, peace consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

The group said that all of the signatories, including Dionisio Almonte and Gloria Almonte—husband and wife who were arrested early January—started their solidarity fasting Saturday as their protest against the government’s disrespect for the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees.

Sarmiento was transferred to the New Bilibid Prison’s maximum security compound last Jan. 15, during which Karapatan and other human rights organizations protested in front of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process for its "being an instrument of the Aquino administration in stalling the peace process."

The six political detainees reiterated their call for the Aquino government to free all political prisoners.

3rd Infantry Division pursuing rebel group who gunned down farmer in Negros Occidental

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 19): 3rd Infantry Division pursuing rebel group who gunned down farmer in Negros Occidental

A military official on Sunday called on the New People's Army (NPA) stop senseless attacks on civilians "as they are non-combatants".

Third Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad made the appeal after two reported killings of civilians in Negros Oriental and Occidental.

Units of the Capiz-based 3rd Infantry Division are in pursuit of New People's Army (NPA) rebels who killed a farmer in Sitio Aguntilang 3, Barangay Riverside, Isabela, Negros Occidental last January 16.

Major Ray Tiongson, 3rd Infantry Division spokesperson, identified the victim as Rolan Dadlis, 28, married and a resident of the above-mentioned area. The victim is also a member of the province's indigenous population.

The victim's four killers were positively identified as members of the "Larangang Gerilya 1" headed by one Magno Flores alias "Vergo" or "Ladin".

Tiongson said that motive for the killing has yet to be determined.

“The killing of innocent civilians done by the NPA is enough. Let us not allow more of these senseless attacks and losses of life to continue. We call on the NPA to stop the killings and spare the innocent civilians as they are non-combatants,” Baladad said.

Meanwhile, another civilian was killed by NPA rebels last Friday at Sitio Biasong, Barangay Tayak, Siaton, Negros Oriental.

The victim was identified as Narciso Bantoto, Jr., and a resident of the above-mentioned barangay.

Investigations revealed that Bantoto was walking with his wife when shot dead by three rebels who immediately escaped.

Tracking operations are now being conducted against these rebels.

Palace hopeful on next round of talks between government, MILF

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 19): Palace hopeful on next round of talks between government, MILF

Malacañang on Sunday expressed optimism the upcoming next round of peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will finally address the contentious issues blocking the way to a final peace agreement.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma Jr. said the government is hopeful both sides will reach an agreement to finally end the conflict.

"Maaring ito na ang huling yugto ng negosasyon sa pagitan ng pamahalaan at ng MILF (It could be the final round of talks between the government and the MILF)," Coloma said on state-run dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.

He said a final agreement would be a big boost to democracy and peace especially in Mindanao.

Last December, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said it and the MILF will aim to finalize the remaining Annex on Normalization, as well as an addendum on the Bangsamoro waters.

It said the Annex on Normalization will concretize the vision for a post-conflict Bangsamoro.

Also, the government aims to work closely with the Transition Commission and Congress to ensure the smooth passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Eastern Mindanao Command still on alert for 'Agaton'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): Eastern Mindanao Command still on alert for 'Agaton'

With Typhoon "Agaton" expected to be in Philippine territory until Thursday, Eastern Mindanao Command head, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz III, on Monday ordered all his men to be on alert for possible disaster relief missions.

"All military units in this AOR (area of responsibility) are (ordered) to join with municipal disaster response relief units, local officials, and the Philippine National Police for possible relief operations," he said.

Cruz said that coordination among military units for augmentation is a must during times of natural and man-made calamities.

Last Saturday, the Eastern Mindanao Command announced that its field units have assisted local government units in the area in the preemptive evacuation of residents in the threatened localities.

Capt. Alberto Caber, the unit's spokesperson, said their troopers helped the Surigao Del Sur provincial government enforced preemptive evacuations in the coastal communities of Cantilan and Cortez towns and Tandag City.

Around 138 families were transported to higher ground by elements of the 36th Infantry Battalion, he added.

Caber said evacuations took place 9:00 p.m. Saturday.

In Compostela Valley, Caber said preemptive evacuations was enforced on the landslide prone community of Barangay Cabinuangan, New Bataan town, Compostela Valley Province.

Around 37 families were taken to safer areas also on Saturday by Eastern Mindanao Command units operating in the province.

In its latest weather bulletin, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said Signal No. 1 remains up over Surigao Del Sur, Agusan Del Sur, Davao Oriental, Davao Del Norte, Davao Del Sur and Compostella Valley.

As of 4:00 a.m., "Agaton" was located 230 kilometers southeast of Hinatuan, Surigao Del Sur as of 4 a.m. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 55 kph near the center.

Northern Luzon Command troopers join 'National Day of Prayer'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): Northern Luzon Command troopers join 'National Day of Prayer'

The Tarlac City-based Northern Luzon Command on Monday expressed it fully supports the declaration of Jan. 20 as the "National Day of Prayer."

Major Emmanuel Garcia, the command's acting spokesperson, said all Northern Luzon Command troopers join President Benigno S. Aquino III as the latter leads the entire nation in prayer around 5:00 p.m. Monday.

"(We will) take a moment to pray for our country as we move forward as one nation united towards a common goal," he stressed.

The "National Day of Prayer" was scheduled as a day of thanksgiving amid the recent disasters faced by the country, including the Zamboanga City siege, the Bohol earthquake, and the onslaught of Supertyphoon "Yolanda".

Delegates of various faiths will be joining President Aquino in Malacanang, including Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Supt. Imam Ebra Moxsir of the Imam Council of the Philippines, Commissioner Zenaida Pawid of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples, Isaias Samson of Iglesia ni Cristo and a representative of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches.

PA acquiring more disaster response equipment

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): PA acquiring more disaster response equipment

With the military playing an increasing role in disaster relief and alleviation efforts, the Philippine Army announced that it is boosting the number of its equipment which can be used in disaster relief operations.

Capt. Anthony Bacus, PA spokesperson, said that the engineering equipment now on the pipeline includes: six units of road rollers; 30 units of dump trucks; 14 units of excavators; eight units of road graders; and 12 units of bulldozers.

He added that once delivered, the equipment will be deployed on strategic areas nationwide.

"This will allow (the PA) a much faster and improved disaster relief strategy," Bacus said.

Delivery is expected within the next two years.

Shortly after the onslaught of super typhoon "Yolanda" in the Visayas last Nov. 8, the PA deployed 155 military vehicles and 4,000 soldiers to help in the humanitarian assistance and disaster response efforts in Tacloban City and other typhoon-affected areas.

Major units coming from the 10th and 4th Infantry Divisions based in Mindanao had sent battalions of carpenter-soldiers to help rebuild destroyed schools, hospitals and other government buildings severely damaged by the super typhoon.