Friday, January 24, 2014

US admiral: Phl relief among China's 'productive' military moves

From the Philippine Star (Jan 24): US admiral: Phl relief among China's 'productive' military moves

In this June 2013 file photo, American Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Chinese Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, People's Republic of China Deputy Chief of the General Staff, held a bilateral discussion regarding mutual security interests and the emerging regional security climate. Carl Hudson/PACOM

United States Pacific Command chief Admiral Samuel Locklear said that despite pressing sea disputes, China's military displays affirmative behavior even toward the Philippines, among its rival claimants.

"As I look globally at China, I think there are some positive aspects of how they're using their military forces in a productive way.  They participated in Operation Damayan in the Philippines.  They provided disaster relief," Locklear said in a press briefing late Thursday as transcribed by the US defense department.

Locklear was referring to China's humanitarian assistance after the deadly Super Typhoon Yolanda wrecked areas in the Visayas last November.

Beijing's aid consisted of pledges of P4.5 million in cash and P76 million worth of non-cash aid including the deployment of the Peace Ark, among the world's largest hospital ships.

Locklear said that China's People's Liberation Army has also been conducting joint training with its neighbors in the region and is even gearing to participate in the largest international maritime warfare exercise or the Rim of the Pacific.

"They're operating, I think, more frequently in multilateral exercises that are being done throughout the region, and as we've talked about, they're planning to come to RIMPAC, so that's still well on track," the commander said.

China is also an important security contributor in the Arabian region, particularly in the Gulf of Aden, Locklear said.

Locklear gave the bilateral relations between the US and China a "passing grade" even as observers believe the US' military shift to the Pacific as a move to contain the rising Asian giant.

"I would say that because we have been able to continue our mil-to-mil bylaws, our mil-to-mil relationships, our mil-to-mil exercises together, even though there has been churn in the region, particularly in the local region that's close to China," Locklear said.

The ranking official reiterated the US' neutral stand on the maritime row particularly in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, admitting that Beijing has not been displaying qualities of a regional leader.

"Ultimately, China needs to be a regional leader. Their military needs to be a regional leader.  It needs to coexist in that part of the world with our allies and with our militaries, and we need to work together for the mutual security," he said.

Locklear also believes China has to improve its reputation and relationship with smaller countries.

"I think they have to think carefully about, you know, the introduction of things like (Air Defense Identification Zones), like they did in the past, and how they go forward with that in the future, and to be open and have a dialogue with people before they do it," he said.

The US, meanwhile, provided the massive humanitarian assistance to the Philippines, deploying about 1,000 troops to the disaster areas since November.

China warns foreign planes entering defense zone

From the Philippine Star (Jan 25): China warns foreign planes entering defense zone

China said Friday it has begun issuing warnings to foreign military planes entering its self-declared air defense zone over the East China Sea amid heightened tensions with its neighbors, especially Japan.

Bitter rhetoric between the neighbors has spiked since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a late-December visit to a war shrine in Tokyo that outraged Beijing. Abe this week compared the tense relationship to the pre-World War I rivalry between Britain and Germany. Japanese officials say the comment was meant as a warning to avoid war.

Chinese state media quoted air force spokesman Shen Jinke as saying several kinds of Chinese planes recently patrolled the sweeping zone that was declared in November.

He said the planes identified several foreign military aircraft, flew alongside them and issued them warnings. He didn't identify the planes or say when the patrol was conducted.

The zone is a "purely defensive measure that conforms to international practice," Shen said.

The U.S., Japan and other countries denounced the zone's declaration in November as provocative and said they would ignore China's demands that their military aircraft announce flight plans, identify themselves and follow Chinese instructions. China has said it would take unspecified measures against aircraft that disobey.

In a policy address Friday in Tokyo, Abe reiterated Japan's position, saying it would "not tolerate any attempt to change the status quo by force." He said Japan would beef up its defensive capabilities "in order to defend the safety in the southwestern region, as well as the vast sea and airspace around Japan."

The zone is seen primarily as targeting Japanese and U.S. military flights over the East China Sea. Its declaration followed more than a year of heightened tensions between China and Japan over control of a series of tiny uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The zone pointedly incorporates the island chain, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, which are controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing.

The zone also incorporates a vast area of international airspace from Taiwan to the Korean Peninsula and overlaps in places with zones enforced by South Korea and Japan.

China and Japan have been engaged in a heightened war of words since Abe visited the Yasukuni shrine honoring war dead, including commanders executed as war criminals for committing atrocities in China and elsewhere during World War II. China has furiously protested the visit and launched a new round of invective against Japan in international media and diplomatic circles.

Abe says the visits are intended to pay homage to those who died and to show his commitment to pacifism, not to praise war criminals.

China's Foreign Ministry said Abe's World War I comments made Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switerzerland, and his visit to the shrine were signs of belligerence. "The Japanese leader, while paying lip-service to a positive peace policy, is effectively adopting a policy of military expansion and preparation for war," ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Friday.

However, Japan's Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga said Abe was drawing the Britain-Germany analogy as a warning for the two Asian countries not to repeat the same mistake of being drawn into a war despite their extensive trade ties.

Suga also told reporters that he is aware of reports that China had issued warnings to foreign aircraft, but declined to confirm them. "I don't understand what China means by voice-warning," Suga said. Japan's defense ministry has not reported any "abnormal flights" by Chinese military jets since Beijing declared its air zone, he said.

China's announcement about issuing warnings shows Beijing is serious about enforcing the zone and will likely be seen as an escalation by Japan and others, said Huang Jing, a China expert at Singapore National University's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. China has consistently unnerved its neighbors since announcing the air defense zone with no advance warning and little explanation, he said.

China has rejected all such criticisms, and a government-backed scholar said a significant sector of the public believes Beijing hasn't gone far enough in challenging Tokyo and the U.S.

"Japan has its own air defense zone, so why shouldn't China? This is something China should have done a long time ago," said Qu Xing, head of the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank affiliated with the Foreign Ministry.

40 rebels break-in village chief's home in Zamboanga

From the Philippine Star (Jan 24): 40 rebels break-in village chief's home in Zamboanga

At least 40 heavily armed New People’s Army (NPA) rebels raided the house of a village chairman and briefly took his family hostage San Miguel town, Zamboanga del Sur on Thursday night.

Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca, spokesman of Police Regional Office 9 (PRO), said the rebels led by still unidentified commander barged into the house of barangay captain Diocoro Lauranilla in Barangay Calube about 10:30 p.m.

The armed men rounded up all members of the household and ransacked the residense of personal belongings, including Lauranilla's handgun.

Huesca said the rebels took the chairman's family hostage for their escape.
Pursuit operations have been launched against the rebel group.

Soldiers conduct info drive on gov't programs in Puerto Princesa

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): Soldiers conduct info drive on gov't programs in Puerto Princesa

The Fleet Marine Team in Palawan will be conducting an information and education campaign (IEC) on the government’s development programs to curb the influence of communist rebels in Barangay Maruyogon on January 30.

Navy Lt. Junior Grade Eduard J. Pablico, commanding officer of the Civil Military Operations Unit West (CMOU-West) of the Philippine Navy, said the information drive on peace and development is also intended to inform the youth on the programs of the navy and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), including IEC on Children in Armed Conflict (CIAC).

“This information drive will also ensure that issues will reach the grassroots and is a year-long drive not only in Puerto Princesa but also the whole province of Palawan as well. Thanks to Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan, the nation is now closer to winning the peace,” Pablico said.

"Bayanihan" is the community development strategy adopted by the military in combating insurgency in rural and far flung areas.

"Our IPSP is working because of the 'Bayanihan' spirit that has been rekindled in all stakeholders. Together as a people, we are closer now in winning the peace. As the AFP takes on a support role in achieving and maintaining peace and security, we see more empowered communities and deepening of democratic institutions -- the foundations of a peaceful society," he added.

The CMOU-West Team will conduct the IEC on high schools and elementary schools in Barangay Maruyogon and will discuss maritime domain awareness, CIAC, IPSP Bayanihan, and will encourage the youth in the recruitment program. They will also hand out leaflets and other information materials for the event, he said.

Troopers, NPA rebels clash in Zamboanga Del Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): Troopers, NPA rebels clash in Zamboanga Del Norte
Troopers from the 1st Infantry Division have successfully driven off a force of 40 New People's Army (NPA) fighters during an encounter at the boundaries of Sitio San Isidro, Barangay Sta. Maria and Sitio Lapanan, Barangay Morob, Leon B. Postego town, Zamboanga Del Norte Friday morning.

This took place around 9 a.m. No casualties were sustained by government forces, Maj. Edmond Abella, the unit's spokesperson, said.

He added that the encounter was in response to a report by concerned citizens regarding the presence of the heavily-armed rebels in their communities.

Abella said their troopers were able to outmaneuver the NPAs who were occupying a higher ground but later backed off when additional troops arrived.

He believes the NPAs sustained several casualties as evidenced by the bloodstains in their routes of withdrawal.

Recovered were assorted propaganda materials, personal belongings, and various subversive documents of high intelligence value.

Reds hold guards, workers hostage

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 25): Reds hold guards, workers hostage

New People’s Army rebels who burned the properties of an hacienda owner in Brgy. Camansi, Kabankalan City, Thursday, also held 25 farm workers, and their children, and four security guards hostage, for almost 10 hours, Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said yesterday.

“It was a traumatic experience for the hostages, especially the children,” Aying said.

Police investigation showed that the rebel suspects, five of them women, torched the warehouse and the tractor of Hacienda Isabel that is owned by the family of the late Kabankalan Mayor Pablo Sola, beheaded some of the sheep, and disarmed the four security guards of three shotguns and a .38 caliber revolver.

The former mayor had been killed in an ambush in the 1980s.

The rebels left the hostages unharmed.

Asked about the delayed response of the Army soldiers and policemen, Aying said they are “cautious” about the modus operandi of the rebels in ambushing government troopers responding to NPA atrocities.

The scene of the incident, which is about 15 kilometers from the Kabankalan City proper is about three kilometers from a police detachment.

Supt. Salvador Dagoon, Kabankalan police officer-in-charge, admitted in an interview over MBC Aksyon Radyo that they arrived at the hacienda raided by the NPA at about noon Thursday, almost 12 hours after the rebels had occupied the area.

In May last year, five Army soldiers, who were responding to arson activities of the NPA in Brgy. Camindangan, Sipalay City, were killed in an ambush staged by rebels. They also lost five high-powered firearms to the NPA.

Aying said the agrarian-reform dispute between the hacienda owner and beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was taken advantage of by the NPA, in order to win the support of the CARP recipients.

Soldiers of the 47th Infantry Battalion are now conducting manhunt operations against the fleeing rebels, he said.

Two weeks ago, suspected NPA assassins also killed CAFGU member Ricky Camacho in Brgy. Magballo, Kabankalan City.

Aying noted that the CPP-NPA rebels are getting more violent, and said they have turned into “lawless criminals.”

Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, 3rd Infantry Division commander, condemned the latest atrocities committed by the NPA, as the rebels did not spare non-combatants, especially civilians.

“It is a very clear violation of the International Humanitarian Law,” Baladad said.

Suspected NPA rebels torch warehouse, behead cattle

From ABS-CBN (Jan 25): Suspected NPA rebels torch warehouse, behead cattle

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL - Around 20 armed men believed to be New People's Army (NPA) fighters torched a warehouse and a farm tractor in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental Wednesday night.

The farm, located in Santa Isabel in Barangay Camansi, is owned by the Sola family.

Aside from burning down the warehouse and farm tractor, the rebels also decapitated the cattle in the farm.

They also disarmed five security guards, tied them up, and took away their cellphones.

The suspects carted away two 12-gauge shotguns, 64 live ammunition and a .45-caliber pistol.

The guards were only able to report the incident to the police the next day after the suspects left early morning.

According to police, members of the Sola family have been receiving threats from the NPA because of their refusal to give something that the rebels have been asking from them.

Blast jolts Malabang, Cotabato town hall

From ABS-CBN (Jan 25): Blast jolts Malabang, Cotabato town hall

COTABATO CITY - An explosion transpired in the compound of Malabang Municipal Hall beside the police station past 11 p.m. on Friday.

Based on a report from the Army's 6th Infantry Battalion, the explosives used were dynamites. These were thrown by still unidentified suspects in the compound of the municipal hall.

There were no reported injuries in the blast.

However, it caused minor damage to the glass window of the building.

The military said they could not see any motive behind the explosion other than people just trying to disturb the silence at night time.

They said the situation in the area is normal and there is nothing to be alarmed of.

After peace pact, MILF will be social force that shuns use of arms – Iqbal

From GMA News (Jan 24): After peace pact, MILF will be social force that shuns use of arms – Iqbal

KUALA LUMPUR - As negotiating panels of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) inch closer to signing the fourth and final annex of the Framework on the Bangsamoro, the MILF said it would become a “social, more democratic force that shuns the use of arms once a final peace agreement is signed."
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said a breakthrough might come either Saturday or Sunday.
The two panels are negotiating two documents at the talks being held at the Palace of Golden Horses in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: the normalization annex and the addendum on the Bangsamoro waters.
The talks being brokered by Malaysia, now on its third day, aim to end the decades-old Muslim insurgency in western Mindanao.
Pending the final details of the normalization annex which outlines the decommissioning of arms by MILF combatants and other armed groups in the region, Iqbal intimated that there will be no surrender of arms by the MILF.
Instead, firearms of the MILF will be under the custody of a third party.
Aside from the issue of arms, the normalization annex will also contain socio-economic programs for those living in the proposed Bangsamoro territories.
The addendum on Bangsamoro waters meanwhile will outline the jurisdiction of the envisioned Bangsamoro government over water resources in its areas.
If both documents are signed during this round, another document, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, will follow.
Once these are completed, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission will submit its draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to Congress for ratification.
Sen. Koko Pimentel arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Friday to give moral support to the panels but cautioned against overpromising commitments.
“Don’t overpromise because Congress will have to pass a law that is constitutional,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel added that the ministerial form of government proposed for the Bangsamoro government would not require constitutional change because it is akin to creating a local government unit.

Other legislators and some Cabinet secretaries are expected to arrive Saturday.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda assured that the peace negotiations are inclusive of all Bangsamoro groups.
Presidential Peace Adviser Ging Deles recognized the fact that there may be some groups who are not supportive of the negotiations with the MILF. However, there are mechanisms in place that will deal with them, she said.

"We have learned from the lessons of the past, that's why we have this Annex on Normalization. The term normalization has in fact been coined because post agreement, what happens to communities, to the fighters is something that needs to be planned out," she said in a statement published on the Facebook page of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. 

USAID-ENGAGE kicks off in Zambo City

From the Daily Zamboanga Times (Jan 24): USAID-ENGAGE kicks off in Zambo City

The City of Zamboanga and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Thursday, January 23, affirming their mutual intent to support transparency, good governance, and peace and development in Mindanao, through the implementation Enhancing Governance, Accountability and Engagement (ENGAGE) project.
The signing of the MOU signified the commitment of Zamboanga City and four other Western Mindanao local government units (LGUs) to support the ENGAGE project, a five-year USAID/Philippines project which seeks to improve the capacities of LGUs and civil society organizations (CSOs) to build prosperity and stability in Mindanao.
Among the first 10 LGU beneficiaries identified for the first ENGAGE project cycle are Zamboanga City, Isabela City, Lamitan City, the province of Sulu, and the municipality of Jolo.
The agreement was signed by US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, USAID Mission Director Gloria Steele, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairman Luwalhati Antonio, and the representatives of the five LGU beneficiaries - City Mayor Beng Climaco for Zamboanga City, Councilor Janesa Tubungbanua representing Mayor Cherrylyn Santos-Akbar for Isabela City, Mayor Rosita Furigay for Lamitan City, Provincial Board Member Abduradzmezer Burahan representing Governor Abdusakur Tan for Sulu, and Mayor Hussin Amin for Jolo.
“We really need programs of the USAID to teach us citizen participation, stakeholder empowerment, collective and collaborative processes for our constituents to be really involved,” Climaco said as she welcomed the presence of USAID and the ENGAGE project in the City.
“What we want is government transparency and accountability of elected officials who will be at the helm of leadership, to be sure that every fund of national government would trickle down to benefit the most vulnerable citizens of our country,” she added.
The MOU signing ceremony also coincided with the first Mindanao visit of Ambassador Goldberg, who earlier paid his courtesy call to Climaco at City Hall.

Elite soldiers arrive, to train Cafgus against rebels

From the Mindanao Gold Star Daily (Jan 24): Elite soldiers arrive, to train Cafgus against rebels

OVER 200 soldiers from the Army’s Special Operations Command arrived yesterday to beef up the military’s anti-insurgency campaign here.

The elite soldiers would be sent to various areas and help in training militiamen in northern Mindanao and Caraga.

They would now be in-charge of the Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) in at least two Mindanao regions, officials said.

The 1st Special Forces Battalion, Special Forces Regiment is an elite Army unit known for its unconventional warfare operations and information support affairs.

“The special forces are highly trained in the art of peace and security development,” said Camp Evangelista spokesperson Capt. Christian Uy.

Uy said first batch of over 200 soldiers arrived Thursday and were given traditional military honors. They were personally welcomed by 4th ID assistant division commander Brig. Gen. Gerardo Barrientos.

“We are expecting more out-of-the-box initiatives… that will positively affect our campaign of winning peace for the people of northern Mindanao,” said Barrientos.

Barrientos said “maneuver troops” would boost the 4th Infantry Division’s anti-insurgency campaign.

“We can now better protect our people against those who want to destroy our democratic way of life,” he said.

The elite troops prior previously served with Army engineers during the clearing operations in Tacloban City in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda.

Guns a sticking point as Philippines government, rebels talk

From Gulf News (Jan 23): Guns a sticking point as Philippines government, rebels talk

Negotiators at southern Philippines peace talks in Malaysia yet to finalise details of an agreement

Negotiators from the Philippines government and a rebel group have admitted the difficulty of realising an ambitious plan to decommission the firearms of the military and other armed groups in the country’s restive south.

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group began peace talks in Malaysia on Wednesday.
In addition to the army, pro-government militia, several rebel militant groups, private armed groups backed by politicians, Al Qaida-linked terrorists and kidnap-for-ransom bandits operate in the southern Philippines, known as a wilderness of loose firearms and hotheads.
“We need to be realistic enough to know we will also make mistakes, that we will not be able to bring everybody on board, that we will suffer delays, that there will be naysayers, recalcitrants and breakaways, as well as corrupt and abusive members of our respective organisations,” said Philippine government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer at the start of negotiations with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur.

“We in the MILF and government continue to strive to overcome all that stands in our way leading to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” Mohagher Iqbal, the chief MILF negotiator, said at the opening of the talks that were scheduled to end on January 26.
The government and the MILF have already agreed in principle to “decommission” the arms of the MILF fighters; but the firearms will not be destroyed, said a source who requested for anonymity. They have yet to finalise details of an agreement on how to secure the firearms and which third international party will make initial and continuous inventory of the rebels’ firearms, the source added.

The government has yet to respond to the MILF’s proposal that MILF fighters must be allowed a minimum number of firearms based on the country’s gun law, said the source, adding that both parties will agree on the stages of the decommissioning of arms of the MILF and the government forces.
Iqbal said both parties had already agreed in principle that the military and pro-government militia must also gradually decommission arms, adding that the Philippine government and the MILF have yet to discuss the stages of the redeployment of government soldiers from or within the autonomous region of Filipino-Muslims.
As this happens, the military, police, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the MILF, “will join each other in keeping peace in the south,” explained Coronel-Ferrer.
The MILF has also proposed that the government must be responsible for preventing the proliferation of firearms among private armed groups in the south.
The idea is to make the southern Philippines gun-free, said Coronel-Ferrer, adding that this plan will involve other southern parts such as Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Peninsula, North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte.
These areas are outside the five provinces and city that currently comprise the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which the Philippine government and the MILF hope to expand with eight more municipalities and 800 Muslim-dominated villages.
The socially volatile south is also the base of the Abu Sayyaf militant group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF), the armed wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) led by former MILF commander Umbra Ameril Kato.
It is also the home of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) whose faction led by MNLF founder Nur Misuari renewed a second armed struggle by taking over several villages in Zamboanga City in September 2013.
Misuari had forged two pro-autonomy peace settlements with the Philippine government in 1986 and 1997.
Despite the problems these groups might create, 90 per cent of the details of the normalisation annex have been agreed upon by the Philippine government and the MILF, said Iqbal.
Normalisation is the fourth annex to be finalised by the two parties before their signing of a comprehensive peace settlement.
President Benigno Aquino said the expansion of the ARMM and the establishment of a new Bangsamoro political entity in the south, for all Filipino-Muslims, should be done before the end of his term in 2016.

PH, US bases access talks resume January 30

From Rappler (Jan 24): PH, US bases access talks resume January 30

FIFTH ROUND: The Philippines and the US militaries will discuss how much access Filipino troops will be given to facilities US will build in the Philippines. DND file photo

DND File photo

The Philippines and the US will resume on Thursday, January 30, negotiations for a military-to-military agreement that will allow increased rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines and will give them access to military bases here.

Round 5 of the talks will be held in Washington DC, Philippine panel chairman defense undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino told reporters on Friday, January 24.

The two countries began talks August last year. Panel members initially looked at 6 rounds of talks to finalize the agreement, but there have been disagreements.

Batino is optimistic there will be a deal, but he cannot commit if it will be finalized within the year. "We still have a very positive look. We are still making good time with respect to the period of negotiations," Batino said.

The 4th round last October was difficult. The two panels disagreed on "critical provisions."

The Philippines panel allowed the US to construct "temporary" facilities in the Philippines, but the US wants to limit the access of Filipino troops to these facilities. (READ: PH panel allows US 'construction' in PH bases)

"We're talking about access. We're talking about how we can enhance our defense cooperation with US," said Batino.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin earlier said the Philippines will insist on equal access.

"We want access to both. It should not be limited to them. We want equal opportunity and equal access," Gazmin said in November.

Rappler earlier reported that the Round 5 of talks happened in December. The defense department said the two panels only had "informal talks" to discuss the agreement. (READ: PH, US resume bases access talks after impasse)

The Philippines sought the assistance of the US, a treaty ally, against the backdrop of rising tension with China over maritime disputes.

The Philippines is also acquiring critical assets to improve its monitoring of the disputed West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).

Gov't, MILF agree on water territories

From Rappler (Jan 24): Gov't, MILF agree on water territories

FINAL HURDLE. The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front only need to settle the annex on normalization before the final peace pact can be drafted and signed. Photo by Rappler

FINAL HURDLE. The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front only need to settle the annex on normalization before the final peace pact can be drafted and signed. Photo by Rappler
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - One of the most contentious issues in the peace talks has been ironed out.
The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Friday, January 24, arrived at a deal on how power will be shared over "Bangsamoro waters" or water territories covering the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, MILF alternate member Antonio Kinoc told reporters here.

With this development, the panels are now down to the final issue of the talks – the annex on normalization, which would set arrangements on how the MILF would decommission their firearms. (READ: Gov't, MILF hope to seal firearms deal)
The Bangsamoro Waters issue was left hanging when the panels signed the annex on power-sharing in December 2013. To move forward with the talks, the panels decided to leave it as an addendum to the annex instead.
Under the deal, Kinoc said local government units will keep their jurisdiction over municipal waters up to 15 kilometers from the coastline, consistent with the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.
Meanwhile, jurisdiction over waters beyond 15 kilometers up to 22 kilometers from the coastline will be exclusive to the proposed Bangsamoro government. This means that individuals or companies who want to fish or explore resources in the area would have to get permits from the Bangsamoro government.
For water territories beyond 22 kilometers, the peace panels settled for a "joint cooperation" arrangement, according to Kinoc.
Wealth sharing
Under this arrangement, Kinoc said the wealth-sharing deal signed in July 2013 would prevail.
The wealth-sharing annex provided a 50-50 arrangement between the Bangsamoro government and the central government on income from energy sources such as petroleum, natural gas and uranium.
It also gave the Bangsamo government 75% of revenues from taxes and charges, as well as metallic minerals and 100% of revenues from non-metallic minerals.
The Bangsamoro Waters issue was one of the most contentious aspects of the talks that it had to be left out as an addendum when the annex on power-sharing was signed in December.
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal earlier said the issue was complicated because it involved an interplay of all aspects of the agreement - power and resources.
Before they settled for the "joint cooperation" arrangement, the MILF had wanted to establish a zone of cooperation in the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, which would provide for equal sharing between both sides. The government had insisted it only wanted to offer royalties.
The signing of the document on the Bangsamoro waters, as well as the annex on normalization – which will outline how the MILF will decommission their firearms – is expected to be held over the weekend.
Congress' role
The panels were preparing the final text of the document as of posting time.
The talks aim to end 4 decades of Muslim rebellion in Mindanao. The insurgency has hampered development in resource-rich provinces in the South. The MILF's strongholds are in central Mindanao, and a breakaway group opposed to the talks has been behind some attacks in the area.
Provisions of the peace pact will have to be translated into a law that Congress, dominated by Catholic politicians, will have to approve. The plan is for a Bangsamoro political entity to be set up before President Benigno Aquino III ends his term in 2016.
More details on the addendum on Bangsamoro Waters to follow once the document is released.

‘Big Red One’ Marines donate blood in Sofronio Española town

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24): ‘Big Red One’ Marines donate blood in Sofronio Española town

"The Big Red One," soldiers who are known for giving their all whenever and wherever the need arises, participated in the blood-letting activity.

The participation of the 12th Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT-12) in the conduct of blood-letting activity dubbed as “Dugo Mo, Buhay Ko," on Tuesday in Sofronio Española Municipal Gymnasium, Pulot Center, Sofronio Española, Palawan ended at about 5:30 in the afternoon.

The blood-letting was part of the pre-anniversary activity of MBLT-12’s 4th Activation Celebration to promote health and safety of the constituents.

"That's what every soldier wants to do, make a difference one way or the other," said Marine Maj. Rodel Martires, commanding officer of the MBLT-12 stationed in Camp Daypo, Barangay Abu-Abo, Sofronio Española.

As a result, 50 bags of blood from military and civilian donors were produced to augment the blood supply of the Palawan Red Cross blood bank and to address the immediate need of blood during emergency cases.

This participation of MBLT-12 envisioned supporting any activity benefiting the Filipino people. It is part of the Marines’ unending gear for humanitarian assistance and civil-military operations in view of its mandate and the AFP’s IPSP “Bayanihan”.

Manhunt on vs NPAs who set off landmine that hurt 7 soldiers in NorCot

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24): Manhunt on vs NPAs who set off landmine that hurt 7 soldiers in NorCot
The Army here has launched manhunt against a band of communist guerrillas who set off a landmine Friday along a dirt road in North Cotabato that left seven soldiers hurt, a military officer said.

Colonel Nilo Vinluan, 57th Infantry Battalion commander, said another batch of New People's Army (NPA) rebels stormed a detachment of the 57th Infantry Battalion in nearby Barangay Flores, also in Makilala when soldiers were to respond to landmine explosion.

Vinluan, commander of the 57th IB, said the blast occurred at about 1 a.m. and was carried out by NPA’s Front Committee 72 and 51, all based in the hinterlands of Makilala.

He refused to identify the soldiers pending information to their next of kin but he assured “they are in safe condition now.”

Vinluan said the NPAs were targeting the palletizing plant of Dole-Stanfilco based in Barangay Luna Sur.

Nine soldiers were also killed in October last year when NPAs set off landmine in Barangay Luna Sur and ambush soldiers responding to the incident.

“This is how cruel the NPAS are, they regularly used weapon of mass destruction,” Vinluan told reporters.

He said the series of attacks came while militant groups were calling for the ouster of government forces in the hinterlands of Makilala where the rebels operate.

Manhunt operation is still going on.

18 armed men sow terror in retired U.S. Army soldier’s home in Palawan

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24): 18 armed men sow terror in retired U.S. Army soldier’s home in Palawan

Police and military authorities in Palawan are currently on full alert to find 18 armed men, who allegedly barged into the house Wednesday of a retired U.S. Army in Brooke’s Point town, and who reportedly threatened to launch attacks on municipal police stations in the southern part of the province.

The armed men, who reportedly introduced themselves as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), barged into the home of 78-yr. old retired U.S. Army soldier Bob Violett located in Barangay Maasin, Brooke’s Point in southern Palawan and threatened to hurt him and his family.

Provincial Police Office Senior Superintendent David Martinez said the armed men were supposed to rent a van that belonged to Violett, but when they learned that it was not there, they ransacked his home and took away valuables.

The NPA members carted away at around 6:00 a.m. a .45 caliber gun, light vision goggles, Swiss knives, cellular phones, and other appliances. They escaped towards the mountainous areas of Maasin.

Martinez told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that of the 18, two were women.

“More or less, they came around six in the morning in Maasin; they forced themselves into the house of Mr. Violett, a 78-year old retired U.S. Army, and his wife,” he said.

Allegedly, the armed suspects introduced themselves as members of the Philippine Army (PA) just wanting to rent his van to go to Puerto Princesa.

“They were supposed to rent his van to go to Puerto Princesa, but when they came and they did not see the van, they proceeded to violate his home,” Martinez added.

With troops from the Marine Battalion Landing Team 12 (MBLT), Martinez said they immediately raised all municipal police stations to full alert, and pursuit operations to prevent the armed men from scattering to hide in different areas in southern Palawan.

Martinez is calling on residents of southern Palawan to be vigilant against any large group moving together from one place to another and immediately report to authorities where they are seen.

Confirming that the NPA has earlier threatened too, to launch attacks against municipal police stations, particularly in southern Palawan, Martinez said they are “prepared and has always been.”

“Right now, we continue to monitor southern Palawan, and we are always prepared even if they did not make any threat,” he said, requesting for residents of southern Palawan to cooperate with them considering that the NPA has also threatened to attack vital installations in the south.

Workshops for frigate program to ensure delivery of quality product

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24): Workshops for frigate program to ensure delivery of quality product

The February workshop, where the four proponents will show and discuss the merits of their respective design and technical specifications for the Department of National Defense (DND)'s P18-billion frigate program, is aimed at ensuring that the country gets a quality warship to boost the capabilities of the Navy.

PN technical working group head Commodore Roland Mercado said that the panel, which will be assessing the designs, are all seasoned naval architects from the government and private sectors.

He added that these individuals will closely scrutinize the designs for possible flaws.

Evaluation for each proponent will last a week.

Mercado said that this will ensure that the designs submitted are proven ones and comparable in capabilities with existing frigate classes.

Evaluation will start by February. Each proponent is given one week each to present and explain their designs to the PN group.

Inspection of the designs and technical specifications will be done in Sangley Point Naval Station in Cavite.

During this period, hull, powerplant, communications, and weapon systems designs will be closely looked into by the PN technical working group and its private consultants.

As of this posting, only four shipbuilders have successfully passed the first stage of the bidding for the P18-billion frigate project.

These are Navantia Sepi (RTR Ventures) of Spain and South Korean firms STX Offshore & Shipbuilding, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. Ltd. and Hyundai Heavy Industries, Inc.

These involves the inspection of company eligibility documents.

Three other shipbuilding firms joined the bidding but the DND declared their documents to be deficient.

These companies were identified as Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd. of India, STX France SA and Thyssenkrupp Marine System, have filed a motion for reconsideration at the DND.

PA plans to form air defense artillery unit

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24): PA plans to form air defense artillery unit
In a bid to increase its anti-aircraft capabilities, the Philippine Army is planning to form a so-called "ADA" (air defense artillery) unit which will help the Philippine Air Force in repelling incursions of hostile aircraft in the country's airspace.

Capt. Anthony Bacus, PA spokesperson, said that the proposal is under the Army Transportation Roadway.

Once formed, the ADA will be tasked to address external threats, he added.

At present, anti-aircraft assets of the PA are embedded in its Mechanized Infantry Division which is based in Camp O'Donnell, Capas, Tarlac. This unit operates around 343 AFVs (armored fighting vehicles) at present, including 150 of the United Kingdom-built GKN "Simba," with the rest consisting of the United States-designed V-150 and V-200 APCs, M-113 "Bradley," Turkish-made ACV-300s and British Scorpion CVRTs (combat vehicles reconnaissance tracks).

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

"Our anti-air assets are embedded at our 'Mechanized Infantry Division,' meaning that they will play multi-roles if there's a need to, but primarily their weapons (are meant) to support ground troops," Bacus said.

He added that anti-aircraft weapons operated by the PA as of the moment include: three units of Bushmasters 25mm auto-cannons, 32 units of Oerlikon 25mm auto-cannons, and 14 units of .50 caliber heavy machine guns.

(Update) 8 soldiers hurt in rebel landmine attack in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24): (Update) 8 soldiers hurt in rebel landmine attack in North Cotabato
Pursuit operations are now being conducted by the Eastern Mindanao Command against the rebel band who detonated a landmine in which wounded eight soldiers of the 57th Infantry Battalion in Purok 2, Barangay Luna Norte, Makilala town, North Cotabato before dawn Friday.

Reports forwarded by Capt. Alberto Caber, the command's spokesperson, said the incident took place around 12:45 a.m.

He added the wounded soldiers were aboard a KM-450 troop carrier which ran over a landmine which was quickly detonated by a rebel forces.

“Our soldiers are deployed to safeguard our people from NPAs barbaric attack and extortion in the area. The wounded soldiers were immediately brought to Kidapawan Hospital for treatment, ” Caber stressed.

Last Sept. 1, 2013, the NPA attacked the Standard Rubber Development Corporation in Makilala and killed its manager in a landmine explosion.

The destruction of the P20-million rubber processing factory left some 700 rubber farm workers jobless.

Civilian reports point to the Fronts 72 and 51 of the New People's Army as responsible for these atrocities.

The use of landmine is a violation of the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

Another meeting for IRP talks scheduled by end of January

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24): Another meeting for IRP talks scheduled by end of January

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Friday announced that another meeting for the Framework Agreement for the Increased Rotational Presence (IRP) will be held in Washington by the end of January.

This will be the 5th round of talks between the US and Filipino panels.

Matters to be discussed includes access and how to enhance defense cooperation with both countries.

Gazmin earlier said that there appears to be an impasse between the Philippine and American panels regarding the ongoing talks on the IRP but expressed confidence that the issue would be resolved.

The issue the DND chief was referring to was the fact that the US panel wants to limit the Philippines access to the temporary facilities that the Americans will construct in the country once the IRP is signed or ratified.

The Philippine side wants access to be equal.

He added that this matter is currently under negotiation as all aspects of the IRP should be beneficial to the country in the long run.

"Eventually, (we are hoping) that both parties will come to an understanding," Gazmin stressed.

American and Filipino negotiators, on the fourth round of talks for the IRP, have admitted to encountering some "gaps" during the course of their two-day meeting in Manila last Oct 1 and 2.

Chinese, PHL vessels going about their business in Scarborough Shoal

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 24): Chinese, PHL vessels going about their business in Scarborough Shoal

Seven Filipino fishing boats and three Chinese Coast Guard ships were spotted in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal by patrol units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Thursday.

The Philippines fishing boats are able to carry out their business without any harassment from the Chinese ships, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

He added that China has yet to implement its policy requiring foreign vessels entering waters declared part of Hainan’s administrative maritime zone to seek approval from Chinese authorities before going about their business.

This declaration took effect on Jan. 1.

Gazmin added that they have yet to confirm the authenticity of this edict as the Chinese government is to comment on it officially.

"It only came out in one of their publications and that cannot be considered official," he stressed.

Malaysian facilitator: GPH-MILF peace pact is “world’s showcase”

From MindaNews (Jan 24): Malaysian facilitator: GPH-MILF peace pact is “world’s showcase”

The Malaysian facilitator in the peace process between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) looks at the nearly completed comprehensive peace agreement as the Philippines’ second major contribution to the world, after People Power in 1986.

“The Philippines gave the world People Power in 1986. This is another,” Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed told MindaNews.

“Where in the world,” he asked, “can you find a country of 90% Catholics giving autonomy to Muslims?”

Within the context of a majority-minority population, the GPH-MILF peace pact is a “world’s showcase” in peace-building, he said.

Tengku, the talks’ facilitator from 2001 to 2002 and from April 2011, said what is coming out of the “genuine negotiations” is “the most advanced autonomous body in the world.”

He described the parties as “committed” and the political negotiation as “genuine” and “sincere.”

Tengku also noted how the Philippine government considered the asymmetric relationship that the MILF proposed.

The Philippines is a unitary state with a presidential system of government. But under the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed on October 15, 2012, the parties agreed that Bangsamoro, the new autonomous political entity that would replace the 24-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, would have a ministerial form of government.

The two parties on Thursday agreed to call the comprehensive peace pact as the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

The panels are expected to sign this weekend (see other story) the Annex on Normalization and the Addendum to the Wealth and Power-sharing annexes, on the Bangsamoro waters.

This weekend’s signing will pave the way for the completion of the CAB.

The CAB will be signed in the Philippines but the panels have yet to agree on the date and venue of the signing.

GPH, MILF sign last Annex this weekend

From MindaNews (Jan 24):
Fifteen months after signing the Framework Agreement on the Bangsmaoro (FAB), the peace panels of the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are expected to sign over the weekend the last of the four annexes to the FAB and the addendum on Bangsamoro waters, paving the way for the completion of the comprehensive peace agreement that both parties had agreed on Thursday to call the “Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro” (CAB).

Unlike previous sessions, the mood among members of the peace panels, the International Contact Group, the Malaysian facilitator and his staff, and the observers in this week’s round has been expectant, like parents or midwives awaiting the birth of a baby, many of them openly saying this is the last push.

“Happy anticipation,” GPH peace panel member Chito Gascon said.

And “last,” it may just be, in terms of completing the four annexes an
d the addendum on this 43rd Exploratory Talks, the 24th  under the Aquino administration, and although the final text of the CAB may not be finished in this round, the signing of the Annex on Normalization and the Addendum to the Annexes on Revenue Generation and Power-Sharing on the Bangsamoro waters, marks the end of the negotiations phase of the nearly 17-year old peace negotiations on solving the Bangsamoro Question.

 The witnesses to the historic event have in fact, arrived – Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles and Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and North Cotabato Rep. Jesus Sacdalan, senior vice chair of the House Committee on Peace and Reconciliation.

Scheduled to arrive Friday evening are Senator Teofisto Guingona III and other Mindanao representatives — Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur, the Deputy Speaker for Mindanao; Jim Hataman-Salliman of Basilan, chair of the House Committee on Peace and Reconciliation; Zajid Mangudadatu of Maguindanao; and Rep. Teddy Baguilat of Ifugao in northern Luzon, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said.

Clear indication

The arrival of, thus far the biggest contingent of Philippine observers and Philippine media in the 24 rounds of talks under the Aquino administration,  is a clear indication  that the signing would be on Saturday or on Sunday, the scheduled end of this round of talks.

GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews separately that they were just “wrapping up” the final text.

Even Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed told MindaNews at around 1:30 p.m. that the Addendum to the Annexes on Power and Wealth-Sharing on the Bangsamoro Waters was “99% done” and the Annex on Normalization was moving forward on the issue on phasing of the decommissioning and redeployment process.

MindaNews sources said the Addendum was completed at 4:30 p.m. and the text cleaned up by 6 p.m., the parties agreeing on the final name of the body as Zone of Joint Cooperation instead of the earlier proposed Zone of Cooperation and Co-Management.

Ferrer said  on their way to lunch break that “Kayang tapusin ang dalawang documents. (We can finish the two documents). Not today but within this session.”
This week’s round of talks started Wednesday and is scheduled to end Sunday.
Iqbal issued a similar statement. “Kayang tapusin (We can finish), he said.

Same page?

But government and the MILF peace panel have yet to be on the same page on the issue of the text of the CAB.

For Ferrer, the text of the CAB is “parang introduction.”  For Deles, it’s “parang cover lang.”

For Iqbal, the text of the CAB is more than just an introduction or a cover page. He told MindaNews Friday morning that there are some issues that they want clearly spelled out in the CAB. He declined to elaborate as their draft text of the CAB had yet to be handed over to the GPH panel.

 Ferrer told MindaNews they gave their draft CAB “several months ago.” The MILF as of 1 p.m. Friday, had yet to hand over their draft CAB to the GPH, through the Malaysian facilitator.  Tengku said as of 1:30 p.m. that he had yet to receive the draft text.

“We’re open”

Ferrer said they were “open to receive proposals from their end as to what else goes into the text (of the CAB). We’ve already indicated some of the elements in a previous text.”

She said they “were just waiting. We’re open to look at whatever proposals they have.”
Iqbal on Friday morning said that after the signing of the Annex on Normalization and Addendum,”  there may be another round to finish the text of the CAB.

Ferrer said they will “discuss the process for that” and added that since all the annexes shall have been signed by then, “it may not be in the same form or full panel.”

Signing of CAB
Iqbal and Ferrer look at “February or March” for the signing of the CAB.

Signed on October 15, 2012, the FAB provides for four annexes that were supposed to have been completed by yearend 2012: the annexes on Revenue-Generation and Wealth-Sharing, Power-Sharing, Normalization, and Transitional Arrangements and Modalities.

The annex on Transitional Arrangements was signed in February; Wealth-sharing in July,

Power-sharing in December, and Normalization and the Addendum, hopefully this weekend.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro will be signed in the Philippines but the panels have yet to decide on the date and venue of the signing.

8 soldiers wounded in NPA ambush in North Cotabato

Fro m the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Jan 24): 8 soldiers wounded in NPA ambush in North Cotabato

New People’s Army rebels ambushed a military truck before dawn Friday and wounded 8 soldiers in North Cotabato’s Makilala town, security officials said.

The military truck was transporting troops from the 57th Infantry Battalion when communist rebels detonated a landmine planted on the village of Luna Norte, according to Capt. Alberto Caber, a spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command.

Caber, citing a report from Lt. Col. Nilo Vinluan, the battalion commander, said the soldiers were being deployed in the town after receiving intelligence that rebel forces would strike and attack construction firms in the province.

He said the wounded soldiers were brought to hospital in Kidapawan City also in North Cotabato.

“Our soldiers are deployed to safeguard our people from NPAs barbaric attack and extortion in the area,” Vinluan said, adding rebels also attacked a rubber processing plant owned by Standard Rubber Development Corporation in Makilala town and killed its manager and another landmine attack in Tulunan town that killed 9 government soldiers and wounded 6 more.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, accused the rebel of violating an international accord that banned the use of landmines.

Cruz has ordered troops to inspect the trails and road network that are regularly used by the farmers and villagers to protect them from landmine explosions.

Just recently, NPA rebels assaulted a Japanese fruit exporter Sumitomo Fruits in Valencia City in the neighboring province of Bukidnon.

Mamerto Bagani, a spokesman for the NPA, said rebel forces raided the banana plantation and packaging facility of Sumitomo Fruits in the village of Barobo as a punitive action in retaliation for its anti-people activities and land grabbing.

Bagani also accused the Japanese firm as anti-labor and engaging in environmentally-destructive operations of their pineapple and banana plantations. He said some P11 million worth of equipment were destroyed by rebels, although there were no casualties in the recent attack.

Last year, rebel forces also raided SUMIFRU’s operations in the village of Bangbang in North Cotabato’s Matalam town. The rebels disarmed the guards and seized a shotgun and radio equipment before torching four trucks.

The company did not issue any statement on the latest rebel attack, but it started its operation in the southern Philippines in 1970 – growing bananas and in 1990 it introduced Gracio brand of bananas.

It now engages in the sourcing, production, shipment and marketing of various fresh fruits, primarily the bananas, pineapple and papaya and exports them to Japan, China, Korea, the Middle East, New Zealand and Russia.

The NPA has been fighting for decades now trying to establish a separate state in the country.