Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gazmin's former aide is new Army chief

From Rappler (Feb 6): Gazmin's former aide is new Army chief

NEW ARMY CHIEF: Major General Hernando Iriberri. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/

NEW ARMY CHIEF: Major General Hernando Iriberri. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/

The former spokesman of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin is the new commanding general of the Philippine Army, according to reliable sources.

From a list of 3 nominees, President Benigno Aquino III picked Major General Hernando Iriberri, commander of the 7th Infantry Division based in Nueva Ecija, to replace retiring Army chief Lieutenant General Noel Coballes, senior military officers told Rappler.

This information was confirmed by a classmate of Iriberri at the Philipine Military Academy (PMA) who was invited to the turnover ceremony in Fort Bonifacio on Friday, February 7.

The President met with Gazmin and Armed Forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista Thursday afternoon, February 6.

A 1983 PMA graduate, Iriberri beat the two other contenders for the post who are more senior than him, including his own commanding general at the Northern Luzon Command, Lt Gen Gregorio Catapang. He is a 1981 PMA graduate.

The other contender was Central Command chief Major General John Bonafos, the previous chief of the elite Special Operations Command and a 1982 PMA graduate.
Iriberri enjoys the backing of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who is very close to the President. (READ: Voltaire Gazmin: The Untouchable)

He was Gazmin's former spokesman (when Gazmin was Army chief) and senior military assistant at the defense department before he became the commander of the Army's 503rd Brigade in Abra and later 7th ID chief.

Iriberri will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on April 22, 2016, two months before President Aquino steps down from office.

Following the seniority tradition in the military, the logical choice would have been a member of PMA classes 1981 or 1982. But seniority is only one of the criteria for the post, and President Aquino himself is not too rigid about it.

He broke this tradition when he named Bautista as Army chief in 2011 and AFP chief in 2012. Bautista bypassed commanders more senior than him. (READ: Son of slain general is new AFP chief)

In an earlier interview with Rappler, Iriberri lamented criticism that he was nominated to the post largely because of his ties to Gazmin. "It's unfair to the President. Ultimately, he will make the decision," Iriberri said.

[Video: Army chief contenders]

While sustaining peace and dev’t, AFP steps up clearing, combat ops

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 5): While sustaining peace and dev’t, AFP steps up clearing, combat ops

While the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is sustaining the gains of its Peace and Development Program (PDOP), it is stepping up clearing  and combat operations, 10th Infantry Division official said.

In an interview,  Maj. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, commanding general of the 10th Infantry Division (Inf. Div.) said the series of atrocities perpetrated by rebel groups were in reaction to the operations carried out by military troops on field.

“We are pouring in more troops, and more active kami ngayon sa combat clearing operations to be followed by immersion of PDOP,” he said of the peace and development initiative  that the AFP runs under Oplan Bayanihan.

He explained that the armed encounters with rebel groups happened as a result of the “aggressive” implementation of PDOP which, he said, is complemented with combat operation.

Just recently, military forces of the 67th Infantry Brigade operating in the east coast areas of Davao Oriental clashed with rebel forces reportedly under Front Committee 15 in Manay (Davao Oriental).

Bernardo said his command had already intercepted the planned entry of  the rebel group. As a result,  the military confiscated  five high-powered long firearms, three  sets of improvised explosive device (IED),  one  rifle grenade,  and   one hand grenade.

One soldier died but four members of the rebel group suffered the same fate during the encounter.

In  a separate interview,  701st Inf. Brigade commander,  Col. Benjamin Madrigal explained that the rebels came all the way from Compostela Valley traversing the mountainous boundary of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley along the Municipality of Maragusan.

Madrigal also  identified a certain area in Brgy. Pagsabangan in New Bataan, Compostela Valley as entry point of rebel groups  going to Davao Oriental.

AFP last year identified Davao Oriental as “insurgency free” but its forces are still guarding the periphery to prevent re-entry of rebel forces.

Ang binabantayan talaga namin ay ang mga (What we are closely watching are the ) mobility corners nila coming from Comval,” Bernardo said.

Meanwhile, Bernardo highly counted on the support of residents in local government units (LGUs) down to the barangay level to achieve impact in implementing PDOP.

“We are into the process of eliminating fear, by eliminating the presence of the armed groups.  After that we will come in for peace and development,  so we can push through what is envisioned: to develop  the communities,” Bernardo said.

4ID marks 44th Founding Anniversary

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 7): 4ID marks 44th Founding Anniversary

Army’s 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division celebrates on Feb. 1 to 5 its 44th Founding Anniversary with this year’s theme “4ID Bayanihan: Ikaw at Ako, Tayong Lahat may Tungkulin Para sa Kapayapaan at Kaunlaran.”

The weeklong celebration highlighted with activities such as the “Barrio Fiesta sa Kampo” concept of booth displays by the different units under its command, showcasing the various products/merchandise from the different localities within the Division’s area of responsibility.

Demonstration of the Infantry Rifle Squad and capability exhibit of Special Operations units, Combat Support and Service Support Units.

Likewise, the Diamond Rock Concert with performances from the different bands of the command among others.

During its anniversary on Feb. 4, the 4ID featured the Evening Parade in honor of the former Commanding Generals of 4ID and Valor Awardees as it gives due recognition to its deserving personnel and civilian partners for peace and development.

Secretary of National Defense Voltaire T Gazmin, Guest of Honor and Speaker, reiterated Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan in pursuit of genuine peace.

In speaking to the troops, the Defense Secretary lauded Major General Ricardo R Visaya, Division Commander, for sustaining the high standard of discipline, training and performance of men and women of the division.

Gazmin further said these are the ideal qualities of the military troops and norms that through the professional example of the 4ID are worthy to be emulated by the other units of the AFP.

He also commended the troops for their unselfish service to the people and the country and emphasized the importance of the role they play in maintaining peace and security in its area of responsibility.

Essentially, he said the role of the Division is to protect the people from all forms of lawlessness.

He reminded the troops to strictly abide with utmost respect for human rights and international humanitarian law and the obedience to the rule of law, and further safeguard the human rights and ensure safe and unhampered delivery of basic needs and services for the people.

I also have trust and confidence in the professional capability of the Division. Its leadership, dynamics, and duty are adhered to the standards, said Gazmin.

For his part, MGen Visaya said this is another occasion to commemorate another year of triumph and growth. This is also a celebration of our success in surpassing the challenges and rigors of dedicated service.

43 former rebels renew livelihood assistance contract with Mt. Province PLGU

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 5): 43 former rebels  renew livelihood assistance contract with Mt. Province PLGU

Forty three  former rebels in the province will continue availing of the rebel returnee livelihood program following the renewal of their contracts with the provincial government.

The rebel returnees (RR) last January 29 signed a memorandum of agreement with the provincial government extending the rebel returnee assistance program  from February to December 2014.

The provincial RR livelihood program, now on its fourth year of implementation, provides each qualified RR a P5,000 allowance per month in exchange  of  community service he renders in his barangay. The RRs are required to works from Mondays to Fridays except holidays.

Listed community services include cleaning of pathways and roads, irrigation maintenance, tree planting, assisting  in the day care centers and health stations, help  in repairing  school buildings and do other tasks assigned to them by their barangay leaders.

Barangay chairmen are tasked to supervise and sign the daily time records of the RRs in their respective barangays.

Provincial Social Welfare and Development Officer Rosalinda Belagan said the 2013 year-end assessment on the program showed that most of the RRs have proven their worth in their communities as they are performing their assigned works religiously.

Belagan noted that  some  host barangays are becoming dependent on the assistance and services of these transformed rebels.

This year, Belagan said the provincial government will be very strict in observing what is in MOA adding that RRs found escaping or neglecting their assigned task will have their monthly financial assistance deducted or cut off.

The social welfare officer said the gravest violation to the MOA the RR could commit which means automatic removal from the program is having continuous contact with his former comrades in the underground movement.

Governor Leonard Mayaen thought of coming up with a special program for the RRs to partly address the concerns of former communist rebels who returned to the folds of the law.

Mayaen explained that the RRs somewhat lost a part of their social standing and that they should be given a chance to prove their worth in the community. He said special privileges must be afforded to this group for them to start a normal life. (JDP/ABD-  CARPIA – Mountain Province.

P1.6M livelihood fund turned over to former CPLA members organizations

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 5): P1.6M livelihood fund turned over to former CPLA members organizations

A more than P1.6-million worth of check was turned-over yesterday to the two organizations of former Cordillera People Liberation Army (CPLA) members, now called Cordillera Forum for Peace and Development (CFPD).

The P1,641,500.00 livelihood assistance fund was received by officers of the Kabunian Peoples Organization (KPO) and the Hibla ng Pagkakaibigan Peoples Organization (HPPO) from Governor Denis Habawel. It was witnessed by representatives from Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO) and other concerned  agencies.

Out of the total livelihood fund, the HPPO received P881,500.00 while P760,000.00 for the KPO that will be utilized in funding the various livelihood activities of the two POs.

Villa Alindayo of the  PSWDO said that the released amount represents  the first tranche or 10 percent of the P16,415,000 approved livelihood fund from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process  contained in  a memorandum of agreement  signed earlier.

She  explained  that the two organization had proposed various livelihood ventures that include corn enhancement and marketing program, buy and sell of feeds, heavy equipment for community assistance, hollow-block making, one-stop auto shop and micro-lending.

Alindayo  said the remaining amount will be released in two tranches upon completion of the needed requirements as stated in the guidelines.

Ping Lacson is PMA Alumni Homecoming primary guest

From the Philippine Star (Feb 6): Ping Lacson is PMA Alumni Homecoming primary guest

Former Senator and Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery Panfilo Lacson will be the guest of honor and speaker during the annual Philippine Military Academy homecoming on February 15.

Lacson, who himself comes from PMA class of 1971 (Matatag), was picked by the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association (PMAAA Inc.) for this year’s coming together of thousands of alumni, either still in the active military and police service, already retired and in the private sector.

Other prominent “mistahs” of Lacson include Sen. Gregorio Honasan, then the “PMA Baron”, who together with other members  who were described in their class’ official website as: “few brave members of their class had to sacrifice their military career to change the political landscape of the country (including) Colonel (Ret) Eduardo Kapunan, Colonel (Ret) Tito Legaspi, Colonel (Ret) Rafael Galvez, and Colonel (Ret) Melchor Acosta.”

The same website added: “These were the men who could have been top generals of the class. The initial result of the approach was very encouraging, as people treated them as heroes of the February Revolution in 1986, but eventually became sour when people’s perception turned negative. The class reputation suffered.”

Other prominent “mistahs” of Lacson are: former PNP Chief 
Edgard Aglipay who retired in 2003, former PNP Directors Virtus Gil, Reynaldo Velasco, Carlos Garcia, Vic Batac and former Army chief Lt. Gen Romeo Dominguez.

The PMA alumni homecoming starts on February 13kicking off with an Eco-trail run and Battle of the Classes Golf tournament.

On Valentine's Day (February 14), the PMA will inaugurate its ground development and a classroom adopted by PMA Class  of 1988 and another classroom donated by PMA Foundation Inc. followed by a “Wreath Laying Ceremony” at the Alumni Memorial at 04:45 p.m.

Aside from the grand alumni parade on the morning of February 15,  a “Testimonial Parade” will be held at 4 o’ clock in the afternoon to honor and bid goodbye to  PMA Superintendent Vice Admiral Edgar Abogado who is retiring.

On February 16, a football tournament “PMA Canteen Cup” is slated while PMA “Cavaliers” and their families will once again be on the memory lane with a “Silent Drill Exhibition” at 10 a.m.

Maguindanao Massacre suspects join BIFF -Mangudadatu

From the Philippine Star (Feb 6): Maguindanao Massacre suspects join BIFF -Mangudadatu

Several suspects of the Maguindanao Massacre  case have joined the rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fights (BIFF), the provincial governor revealed.

Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu said that he has received reports that a few of the men behind the bloodiest election-related violence in the country's history are being coddled by the BIFF.

"The Maguindanao Massacre suspects, balita namin nandoon na sa BIFF sila," Mangudadatu said in an interview aired Wednesday night on ANC.

The breakaway forces staged a week-long assault in January, clashing with government security forces, where 52 of the rebels and one soldier were killed in Mindanao.

"Ang panawagan ko sila [ay] sumali na lang sila dito sa ongoing peace process," Mangudadatu said.

The governor's wife and two sisters were among the 57 killed in the in November 2009 incident called "the single deadliest event for journalists" in the country.

The powerful Ampatuan clan is said to be behind the brutality amid Mangudadatu's gubernatorial bid that challenged former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr.

Crippled NPA fighter hopes to raise money for P600,000 bail

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 6): Crippled NPA fighter hopes to raise money for P600,000 bail

Almost three years after she was wounded, captured and placed under hospital arrest, former New People’s Army (NPA) fighter Vanessa delos Reyes still wishes to be free but doubts the government could grant it through humanitarian reasons alone.

“My birthday wish? It’s to get out of here,” said the 29-year-old former NPA fighter inside the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC), skillfully rolling her wheelchair before student activists who came to cheer her on her birthday on February 4.

“But it’s obvious letting me out for humanitarian reason is no longer acceptable to the government, but I still wish to be released, even on bail,” said Delos Reyes.

As hope for the peace talks between the government and the communist-led NPA has been dimming, Delos Reyes said she would have to raise money for her bail, which the court has pegged at P600,000.

After her capture in May 2011, when she was seriously wounded in an encounter with government soldiers in Davao Oriental, the lean and soft-spoken former fighter has been recuperating inside the SPMC compound, under close security watch by the police.

Delos Reyes, whose wound has affected her spinal column and who could no longer move about on her own without a wheelchair, was slapped with four counts of frustrated murder in July 2011, barely two months after her capture.

The group calling themselves Free Vanessa delos Reyes Movement has repeatedly urged the government to release her on humanitarian grounds but after almost three years spent in captivity, Delos Reyes said she was losing hope that government would grant her wish.

“I can hardly expect that from the government, who even refused to recognize that political prisoners exist in this country,” she said.

She said the Aquino government continued to treat political prisoners like common criminals, by charging them with common crimes like murder, when they were merely fighting for their political beliefs.

Delos Reyes was seriously wounded while trying to save a seriously wounded comrade in an encounter with government troops near the Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel town in Davao Oriental. Later, former vice mayor, now mayor Rodrigo Duterte had airlifted her from a nearby hospital in Bislig, Surigao del Sur, where she and two companions were hospitalized, and brought her to the SPMC hospital in Davao.

The National Democratic Front earlier demanded for the release of more than 300 political prisoners in different parts of the country as goodwill gesture in continuing the stalled peace talks in the country.

US warship arriving in Manila Friday

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 6): US warship arriving in Manila Friday

USS Pinckney/CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/US Navy Mate 3rd Class Timothy F. So

A US warship is arriving in Manila on Friday (Feb. 7) amid increasing tension between the Philippines and China over a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

The US Embassy said on Thursday the USS Pinckney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer homeported in San Diego, California, would arrive for restocking and for a rest stop for its crew.

The 155.30-meter, 9,300-ton destroyer will remain in Manila until Feb. 11, according to the embassy.

The Pinckney would be in Manila “for a routine port call that highlights the strong historic, community, and military connections between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines,” the embassy said in a statement.

“This visit will allow the ship to replenish supplies as well as give the crew an opportunity for rest and relaxation. While in Manila the sailors of the USS Pinckney are very eager to strengthen their understanding of a country with such strong historical ties to the United States,” the embassy said.

The destroyer, part of the US Pacific Fleet, carries 300 sailors, including 10 Filipino-Americans.

Named after World War II Navy hero Cook First Class William Pinckney, the destroyer deployed a month ago for maritime security operations and sea exercises.

The Pinckney is the second American ship to arrive in the Philippines this year following the USS Shiloh, which docked in Cebu province on Jan. 31.

The missile cruiser, manned by 390 sailors, was in Cebu for four days for restocking and rest and relaxation.

Reds regrouping in ‘Yolanda’ areas – OPPAP

From the Manila Times (Feb 6): Reds regrouping in ‘Yolanda’ areas – OPPAP

The “whole of government initiative” will be delivered to Yolanda-hit communities affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda that have been classified by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as CPP-NPA “affected and/or threatened” in the Samar-Leyte areas, a top official of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Peace Process (OPAPP) said.

“The Cabinet Cluster on Security, Justice and Peace to explore ways to gain ground through a systematic delivery of government programs and services in insurgency-affected communities that were also practically wiped out by the typhoon,” said OPAPP assistant secretary for policy Jennifer Oreta during Wednesday’s strategic planning here.

Oreta added that the situation poses several openings for the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) to intensify agitation in the areas, capitalizing on the perceived inefficiency of the government to address the humanitarian crisis, and use it as platform to recruit disgruntled individuals affected by typhoon.

“Legal and underground organizations in the Samar-Leyte areas were disrupted by Yolanda and consequently the CPP-NPAs’ influence was also upset so they will attempt to regroup themselves,” the official added.

“It is therefore imperative to have peace-conflict sensitivity in doing rehabilitation and reconstruction works,” Oreta stressed.

The government had identified the target Yolanda-affected communities wherein peace initiatives will be done along with the rehabilitation works in the towns of Sta. Rita, Basey, Villareal and Marabut in Samar; Hernani, Llorente and Gen. Mac Arthur in Eastern Samar; Carigara, Jaro, Dagami, Burauen, Albuera to include Ormoc City in Leyte.

Among the immediate needs and intervention that the government will provide are food and water relief support; shelter and reconstruction; peace, order and security aspects; livelihood, employment and commerce; and in areas of health and education.

Relatedly, the Sangguniang Panlungod (SP) of Tacloban City on Wednesday passed a resolution asking President Benigno Aquino 3rd to provide additional funds for the city’s operations.

The resolution authored by Councilor Cristina Romualdez, the committee on finance chairman, stressed that the current budget of the city government was not enough to support the current needs of the city.

The local government is asking for some P363 millions augmentation fund, said Romualdez.

Last week the city council approved the 2014 amended budget of the city government amounting to some P550 million.

Government prepares for Bangsamoro plebiscite

From the Manila Times (Feb 6): Government prepares for Bangsamoro plebiscite

The government has started laying the groundwork for the conduct of a Bangsamoro plebiscite which may be held next year, according to Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr.

Brillantes said the government peace panel has started consultations with the poll body. The commission, he added, has created a special committee that will determine on the election-related provisions of the Bangsamoro law.

He added that the Comelec body, headed by Commissioners Al Parreño and Luie Guia, had conducted meetings with the peace panels to discuss what provisions to include in the plebiscite.

“Pinag-uusapan na namin para malaman, kumunsulta anong provisions ang ilalagay nila sa batas ng plebiscite, paano ang elections,” [We have been discussing this to know and to consult what provisions they are going to include in the law of the plebiscite and how the election will be done,”] Brillantes said.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez earlier said the poll body will be ready to hold a plebiscite when and if Congress enacts the basic law that will create the Bangsamoro entity.

The Bangsamoro is seen to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Recently, the government and the MILF panels formally signed the last annex to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro that seeks to end the conflict in Mindanao.

Brillantes said the 2016 national polls will not be affected if the Bangsamoro plebiscite will be held in 2015.

“Walang problema ang plebiscite madali lang naman ‘yan e. Wala halos preparations diyan, except siguro ‘yung mechanical preparations,” [There is no problem with the plebiscite, it is easy. There is almost no preparation for it, except maybe on mechanical preparations,”] he said.

 Congress leaders said the proposed Bangsamoro law will be passed before the year ends.

Senate President Franklin Drilon and Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. said both chambers will work for the swift passage of the Bangsamoro law.

“On top of our list is the Bangsamoro Basic Law which we will pass before the year is over. We’re not talking here of how it will look like. The point here is we have to have the basic law,” Drilon said.

Belmonte said lawmakers will scrutinize the law.

“Unang-una, ‘yung Bangsamoro basic law, we were assured na walang Charter change doon,” Belmonte said. “We are fully supportive of the Bangsamoro agreement and we will just wait for the draft bill.”

MILF role in military raids may trigger 3-way war

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 7): MILF role in military raids may trigger 3-way war

A top commander of the Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front on Thursday warned that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s alleged ‘participation’ in the military’s operation against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters could spark a three-way war among rebel factions.

MNLF overall Commander Bensaleh Sharifah said MILF’s participation in identifying the BIFF’s location to government forces could worsen the situation in Mindanao and may result to a full-blown war among Muslim groups.

Sharifah alleged that a number of MILF fighters joined the military in attacking BIFF rebels during the five-day clashes in at least five areas in the outskirts of Maguindanao, known strongholds of the MNLF and the BIFF.

“Ito’s masamang senyales para sa MNLF at BIFF,” he said. (This is a bad sign for both the MNLF and the BIFF).

Sharifah said it was not the military but the MILF which requested for a 72-hour deadline for the military to “decimate” BIFF forces at their lair in Brgy. Ganta at the tri-boundary of Datu Piang and Shariff Saydona in Maguindanao.

He added that the military attacked an MNLF camp and not a BIFF camp as it claimed earlier.

Sharifah accused the military of breaking the covenant that it signed with the MNLF at the height of the Zamboanga City siege last year, particularly the agreement that the military would recognize the MNLF camp in Brgy Bakat.

Instead, Sharifah said, the camp was ‘dragged into the military’s operation’.

“How can you normalize and institute genuine peace in Mindanao when we and the BIFF are being attacked by the military?” Sharifah said.

Sharifah also claimed that the fighting in Mindanao is being used by the government to ‘demolish all rebel fronts,’ including the MNLF, which the government consider as a major stumbling block to the GRP-MILF framework agreement.

Earlier, government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer urged the BIFF to lay down their arms and participate in the peace process This was, however, rejected by the BIFF.

But MNLF spokesman Abzalom Cerveza said the move would only complicate the entire process in the government’s attempt to resolve the armed conflict in the region.

As this developed, two civilians were hurt in another bomb explosion at around 8 p.m., Wednesday, allegedly perpetrated by the BIFF in Barangay Poblacion, Kabacan, North Cotabato.

Major Dante Gania, the Public Affairs Office chief o the Army’s 6th ID, identified the wounded as Rico A. Save, 29 and Gil Jhoe P. Langrio, both from cotabato Ciyt. The victims sustained minor injuries.

Gania said probe showed the victims’ injuries were not from shrapnels of the bomb but came from the exploded tanks of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) which was hit by a shrapnel.

Swift passage of Bangsamoro law assured

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 6): Swift passage of Bangsamoro law assured

Leaders of Congress yesterday assured the swift passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014. Senate and House of Representatives leaders also said they want it ratified and in place before the end of President Benigno S. Aquino III’s term in 2016.

The assurance was made after Senate President Franklin M.  Drilon, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter S. Cayetano and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile met with House of Representatives Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales Jr. and Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora to discuss the proposed peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Movement (MILF) yesterday morning.

After the meeting, Drilon and Sen. Teofisto Guingona III met with Mohaqher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chairman, and the Philippine panel led by Teresita Quintos Deles, head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), during a courtesy call at the Senate building in Pasay City.

“The comprehensive peace agreement will be the basis for the basic law and we expect the (Aquino) administration draft of the basic law to be submitted to us. The draft law must stay within the four corners of the Constitution. There will be no need for a constitutional amendment,’’ Drilon said.

He brushed off calls for the amendments to the 1987 Constitution before a peace agreement with the MILF could be put in place.

“All of us are in agreement that enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law should be in place by the end of 2014. That is our target because we want to see 2015 as a year when we can submit this for ratification by the areas covered by the Bangsamoro Basic Law. This is our commitment and our target dates that we want to pursue seriously in both the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Drilon said.

A resident of Mindanao, Guingona said, “We are nearing the crucial (end) of the long-awaited peace talks.”

As chairman of the Senate Peace, Unification and Reconciliation Committee, Guingona said he fully supports the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“On the part of the MILF, I assure you there is no other way than to push the issue of peace so that peace will not only be in Mindanao but the entire Philippines. Everybody will reap the fruits of this agreement,” Iqbal told Senate reporters after the courtesy call on Drilon.

“The MILF is fully committed to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law and we know it is not an easy job,” he said.

Asked about the status of the 1996 Philippine Government-Moro NationaL Liberation Front (MNLF) peace accord, Deles said consultations are being made with the MNLF headed by Nur Misuari and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

The panels of the Philippine government and MILF expressed relief following the recent signing of the last of four Annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

Iqbal described the annex on normalization as the most sensitive and most emotional of all the issues, entailing a lot of sacrifices on the part of the MILF.

Retiring general recalls career as foe, friend of MILF

From Malaya (Feb 7): Retiring general recalls career as foe, friend of MILF

WITH his impending retirement today, Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes reflected on his military career as he defended his past and current efforts with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front  from foe to friend.
Coballes played a role in carrying out the all-out war declared by former President Joseph Estrada in 2000 against the MILF. He was then the commander of the Army’s 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion, an elite unit.
The all-out war resulted in the capture of dozens of MILF camps in Central Mindanao, including the group’s main headquarters Camp Abubakar. Hundreds of MILF men and soldiers died in the fighting.
The administration of President Aquino has been all out in negotiating a peace accord with the MILF. A final peace agreement is in the offing with the signing of normalization annex last month.
Coballes said that if the peace negotiations went on in 2000, “we could have finished or completed the peace process now. We would have lesser problems in Mindanao.”
“But I would rather not say that what we did then was wrong,” he said, referring to the 2000 all-out war. “There must be some wisdom why we did it before, why we did it (peace process) now,” he said.
He said the military looked at the MILF as a “threat to the peace of the country” in 2000. But as he rose in the military ladder, Coballes said his outlook changed especially when the peace process progressed.
Coballes, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1980, is set to relinquish his post today when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56.
There was still no official word as to who will succeed him but talks are that his successor will either be Northern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Catapang or 7th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Hernando Iriberri.
President Aquino will preside over the turnover ceremony at the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.
Coballes recalled how he gained “strategically important” assignments, including the command of the First Scout Ranger Regiment and Western Mindanao Command.
“In my entire career, I’ve spent more than 50 percent in the battlefront, or we call in the field,” he said. In those assignments, he fought against groups like the New People’s Army, MILF, Moro National Liberation Front and the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
Coballes said when he joined the military, his expectation was to attain the rank of captain only, “then I’ll be out of the service.”

Bukidnon farmer killed, groups blame army’s counter-insurgency drive

From the pro-CPP Davao Today (Feb 6): Bukidnon farmer killed, groups blame army’s counter-insurgency drive

A farmer leader in Bukidnon was killed and his companion wounded in Valencia City, Bukidnon by unidentified assailants Wednesday morning.

Julieto Lauron, a member of the farmers Kasama-Bukidnon which is affiliated with Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, was shot dead Wednesday morning in Crossing Hindangon, Hagkol, Valencia City, Bukidnon.

His companion, Nermie Lapatis from the indigenous group Kasilo, was wounded in the leg.

Reports from Alerto Pesante said Lauron was driving a motorcycle with Lapatis as his passenger and were on their way to a meeting with farmers when they were shot by their assailants who were riding-in tandem on a motorcycle.

Lapatis reportedly pretended to lay dead and was rescued later and is currently hospitalized.

The groups of Lauron and Lapatis suspect that the military’s counter-insurgency campaign has led to this attack.

In a statement, KMP Northern Mindanao chair Danilo Menente pointed out that two weeks prior to the incident, a military battalion was deployed in the province for counter-insurgency operations.

“The killing of Lauron came almost two weeks after more than a hundred troops belonging to the 1st Special Force Battalion who came from Quezon province was sent to Bukidnon to confront the apparent growing strength of the rebel group NPA,” Menente said.

Menente said his group opposed the deployment as they feared human rights abuses might happened.

Jomorito Guaynon, chairperson of the indigenous group Kalumbay Northern Mindanao said the 1st Special Force Battalion was “involved in the infamous Atimonan shootout where 13 people were killed, including civilians.”

Menente told Davao Today that the night before the shooting, Lauron was photographed by an unidentified person when he was attending a neigbor’s birthday.

Menente said this incident “is a grim reminder of the brutal nature of (President) BS Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan campaign of suppression which, like its predecessor targets legal organizations struggling for human rights and tags them as NPA supporters. Surely this is a bad indicator of things to come.”

Menente slammed the 4th Infantry Division which covers the area of Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and Caraga Region under Commander General Ricardo Visaya who he tagged as a “protégé and buddy of notorious and wanted at-large General Jovito Palparan.”

Guaynon added that Gen. Visaya was “one of the think-tanks behind militarizing Bicol region as well as urban areas in National Capital Region. He was also the ground commander (during) the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004.”

Menente and Guaynon both called on authorities and local government to investigate “the pattern of killings” against peasant and indigenous leaders in Mindanao.

US presses Beijing on South China Sea claims

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 7): US presses Beijing on South China Sea claims

The United States on Wednesday urged Beijing to clarify or adjust its claims in the South China Sea, calling for a peaceful solution to one of Asia’s growing flashpoints.

With tensions already high over Beijing’s imposition of an air zone above islands administered by Japan in the East China Sea, fears are growing of a fresh showdown in a separate row in the South China Sea where the Philippines is especially concerned.

Addressing the rifts, the top US diplomat for the region challenged Beijing’s so-called “nine-dash line” that outlines its territorial claims over much of the South China Sea.

Danny Russel, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said that maritime claims under international law needed to be based on land features.

“Any Chinese claim to maritime rights not based on claimed land features would be inconsistent with international law,” Russel told a congressional committee.

“China could highlight its respect for international law by clarifying or adjusting its claim to bring it into accordance with international law of the sea,” he said. Russel supported the Philippines’ right to take its case to a United Nations tribunal — a move last year that was denounced by China — as part of efforts to find a “peaceful, non-coercive” solution.

“China’s lack of clarity with regard to its South China Sea claims has created uncertainty in the region and limits the prospect for achieving mutually agreeable resolution or equitable joint development arrangements,” Russel said.

Russel’s remarks indicate an increasingly activist US stance on the South China Sea. In 2010, then secretary of state Hillary Clinton declared on a visit to Vietnam that freedom of navigation was a US national interest in the South China Sea, through which more than half of the world’s merchant goods are shipped.

But the United States, while boosting military cooperation with allies Japan and the Philippines, has generally stressed that it takes no stance on sovereignty in Asia’s myriad disputes — a position that Russel reiterated.

Concerns have been rising over the South China Sea. Philippine President Aquino, in an interview with The New York Times, called on world leaders not to “appease” China and drew a parallel to the 1938 decision to give Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun recently reported that China has drafted proposals for an Air Defense Identification Zone over the South China Sea, similar to a move in November over the East China Sea that sent tensions soaring with Tokyo.

China denied the report, accusing “right-wing forces” in Japan of playing up tensions. The state-run Xinhua news agency separately attacked Aquino, saying his remarks showed him to be an “amateurish politician who was ignorant both of history and reality.”

Russel repeated warnings to China not to impose an Air Defense Identification Zone, which calls on planes to report to Beijing, over the South China Sea.

“We neither recognize nor accept China’s declared ADIZ,” Russel said. “We made clear to China that it shouldn’t attempt to implement that ADIZ and should refrain from taking similar actions elsewhere in the region.”

The United States, Japan and South Korea have defied China’s zone in the East China Sea by flying fighter-jets through it without informing Beijing.

But Rep. Steve Chabot, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asia and a member of the rival Republican Party, accused President Barack Obama’s administration of sending “mixed signals” that have emboldened China.

Misuari deceived MNLF fighters in Zambo siege, says Deles

From ABS-CBN (Feb 6): Misuari deceived MNLF fighters in Zambo siege, says Deles

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Ging Deles claimed that members of the Moro National Liberation Front's (MNLF) Nur Misuari faction were only deceived by their founding chairman to stage an attack on Zamboanga City in September last year.

Appearing before the Senate inquiry into the nearly three-week crisis in Zamboanga on Thursday, Deles said the rebel group's siege to the city was the result of Misuari's "manipulation of facts."

"The Zamboanga siege was the result of the manipulation of facts by Misuari and his cohorts to mislead their members into believing that their declaration of independence from the Philippine government is justified," she said.

MNLF fighters attacked Zamboanga on September 9, about a month after Misuari declared independence for Mindanao, Palawan and parts of Malaysia.

The declaration of independence was triggered by what the MNLF claims as the government's abandonment of the tripartite review of the implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement in favor of holding peace talks with an MNLF breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Deles, however, insisted that the government did not at any point "turn its back" on the MNLF, and that Misuari only wanted power over the whole Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

"It can be surmised that their actions are driven by their personal agenda of gaining power. It happened not because Misuari or the MNLF was ignored, but because he was unhappy and the peace process cannot give him what he wants, which is perpetual entitlement to the leadership of ARMM," she said.

She pointed out that another meeting, facilitated by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), had been set in Yogyakarta, Indonesia last September 16.

Misuari committed to attend the meeting, she said.

However, a week before the supposed meeting, MNLF rebels led by Misuari and commander Ustadz Habier Malik attacked Zamboanga, with the plan of raising their flag at the city hall.

Deles also pointed out that Misuari made his members believe that a certain Daniel Xavier, representing the United Nations (UN), expressed support for the MNLF's declaration of independence.

But, she said, upon learning about the rumors, the UN immediately issued a statement saying that there is "no Daniel Xavier in its roster of staff or consultants."

Still reaching out

Deles said the government has been consistent in reaching out to the MNLF not only in connection to the tripartite review of the implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement but also to the peace process with the MILF.

She said the MNLF was never left out in the peace process. It is only the Misuari rebel group that chooses not to join in the talks, she said.

She said they earlier asked the MNLF, both the Misuari and Sema wings, to nominate a member to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, but both declined.

She added that both factions of the MNLF were also invited by the government to join in the drafting of the Bangsamoro basic law. Both, however, again declined.

But despite their continued refusal to participate in the peace process and the attacks they staged in Zamboanga over four months ago, Deles said the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) will continue with their efforts to reach out to the rebel group.

She said the local government of Sulu, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and some former members of the MNLF are currently trying to reach out to Misuari's commanders.

Just this week, she said she had a meeting with Jimmy Labawan, the vice chairman of the MNLF-Misuari faction, regarding the continuation of the tripartite review process.

"We are also receiving assurance that there are members of the faction associated with Misuari but who did not join the Zamboanga siege that they would like to continue with the process," she added.

Deles said, "We are not turning our back to the MNLF."

MILF concerned about victims of AFP-BIFF fighting

From ABS-CBN (Feb 6): MILF concerned about victims of AFP-BIFF fighting

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has expressed concern over civilians affected by recent incursions between the soldiers of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and fighters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao province.

MILF's Chief Negotiator Mohagher Iqbal relayed the concern Thursday in a courtesy call made by the members of Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) on Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator TG Guingona, who chairs the Senate Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unification.

The leaders discussed the crafting of the Basic Law which is one of the elements of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

At the 43rd Formal Exploratory Talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and MILF held at the last week of January 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Iqbal reported that the BTC is busy preparing the draft of the Basic Law, which they expect to be submitted to Malacanang by April. It will then be sent by the President to Congress by May of this year.

Iqbal expressed confidence that the peace process will go unhampered despite the violence that has erupted in Maguindanao between government forces and BIFF, Muslim fighters who bolted from the leadership of the MILF. But Iqbal is not so concerned about the the BIFF-government clashes but on impact of the conflict.

"What we are more concerned now is the condition of civilians who may be affected by the violence" said Iqbal.

Secretary Ging Deles, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said the peace process will not be affected by the incursions on the ground between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the BIFF.

"They're not looking at conducting hostilities and AFP is cognizant of the peace process," said Deles.

Bomb blast outside LPG store hurts 2

From ABS-CBN (Jan 6): Bomb blast outside LPG store hurts 2


Two men were hurt after an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded outside an LPG store in Brgy. Kabacan, North Cotabato on Wednesday evening.

The victims were identified as Rico Salve and Gil Pulmero.

Joel Asero, who works in the store, found the IED inside a plastic container.

A bomb squad from the Explosives Ordnance Disposal of the Philippine National Police was about to defuse the IED when it exploded.

The disruptor also went off a few seconds before the bomb, setting the store on fire.

Authorities see the explosion as a possible terrorist attack. They added that they received a bomb threat hours before they found the bomb.

The police believe that the man holding the trigger for the bomb was just within the vicinity.

They think the explosion was timed just as a bomb squad member was approaching the IED.

Based on the initial investigation, an 81 millimeter mortar was used in the explosive, based on the fragments left on the scene.

Last year, a National Power Grid Corporation tower was bombed, and two grenades were recovered in separate incidents in North Cotabato.

Army’s 1st Tabak Division announces soldier recruitment

From the Daily Zamboanga Times (Feb 6): Army’s 1st Tabak Division announces soldier recruitment

The Army’s 1st Infantry Tabak Division is inviting applicants for Candidate Soldier.

Recruitment and processing started on January 31, 3014 at Headquarters, 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army, Kuta Major Cesar L Sang-an, Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur, and the registration and pre-screening have been extended to February 7 and 8, 2014 in order to have a wider pool of applicants  in the Division.

The desire of the command is to recruit only the “best and the smartest” among the interested applicants.   The basic requirements for the pre-screening is as follow:

18-26 years of age;
Height - 5 feet above;
Philippine Army Aptitude Test Battery - score of 80 above;
Physical Appearance without obvious physical deformities;
No Tattoo;
No Ear Piercing;
No Penile Implant;
Normal Blood Pressure;
Not Color Blind;
Good Dental health;
Single and without a child; and
No pending cases in court.
Additional requirements are:
Birth Certificate from National Statistics Office with official receipt; 2) Form 137 or Transcript of
Records, Diploma (High School or College);
one 2x2 picture with name tag; and
valid IDs.

For more information please call/text: OG1, 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army Hotline:0908-11- 9322 (Smart) & 0917-703-4866 (Globe)

MMD: Panayam kay Abu Misry Mama - BIFM-BIFF Spokesperson (02-04-14)

Posted to the Moro Muslim Defenders Facebook page (Feb 4): PANAYAM KAY ABU MISRY MAMA- BIFM-BIFF SPOKESPERSON 02-04-14 (Interview with Abu Misry Mama-BIFM-BIFF Spokesperson)

Allahu Akbar! 02-04-14! BIFF interview! big slap to government! Mama said; we are in good condition..Alhamdulillah

Army, PNP point to BIFF in North Cotabato town bombing

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): Army, PNP point to BIFF in North Cotabato town bombing
Police and military officials here said the bombing here Wednesday night was perpetrated by renegade Muslim rebels from Maguindanao to sow terror.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, citing intelligence reports, said sympathizers of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) wanted to avenge the death of their comrades by attacking non-combatants.

Hermoso stressed the composition of improvised bomb, an 81 mm mortar with mobile phone as trigger mechanism, was the signature of the BIFF that they use whenever they suffered casualties in Army offensives.

A security guard and bystander were slightly hurt when the bomb planted at a road side fronting a variety store selling liquefied petroleum gas, went off at about 8:00 p.m.

Newly promoted police Supt. Jordine Maribojo, chief of the Kabacan police, said there were indications that the bombers had planned to set off a fire by setting off the IED in front of the LPG dealer.

Police investigators said the suspects had originally planned to cause damages to a line of business establishments but decided to change decision when they saw blue guards nearby.

Blast victims, Rico Salve, security guard of the Sugni Superstore, and Gil John Pamulera, have been pronounced out of danger although they sustained minor shrapnel injuries.

“It was in retaliation for the military’s liberation from BIFF control of the group’s enclaves in the towns of Datu Piang and Shariff Saidona (both in Maguindanao) last week,” Hermoso said.

More than 50 BIFF bandits were killed in the takeover of the BIFF camps, which lasted from January 27 until February 2.

Kabacan is situated beside Maguindanao where the Operation Darkhorse was launched by the Army.

Suspected BIFF members also attempted to set off bombs in front of the Kabacan water district.

Captain Tony Bulao, spokesman of the Army’s 602nd Brigade, said the IED that was to be used in the bombing was found by passersby and was, subsequently, deactivated by police and Army bomb experts.

Since the fighting erupted in Maguindanao, the Army's 602nd Brigade has beefed up security in Kabacan and surrounding towns to prevent possible retaliatory attacks by the BIFF.

More Army and police checkpoints have been set up. Government forces manning these checkpoints also seized motorcycles without registration documents and drivers without licenses.

Since the fighting began in Maguindanao, about six IEDs were set off by suspected BIFF in Datu Piang, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Guindulungan, Mamasapano, Datu Paglas, all in Maguindanao and in Cotabato City.

Convergence of peace, rehab efforts needed in 'Yolanda'- affected communities – OPPAP official

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): Convergence of peace, rehab efforts needed in 'Yolanda'- affected communities – OPPAP official

The “whole of government initiative” will be delivered to communities affected by super typhoon Yolanda that are also classified by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as CPP-NPA “affected and/or threatened” in the Samar-Leyte areas, a top official of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Peace Process (OPAPP) said.

“The impasse in peace table prompted the cabinet cluster on Security, Justice and Peace to explore ways to ‘win the ground’ through a systematic and deliberate delivery of government programs and services in insurgency-affected communities that were also practically wiped-by the typhoon,” said OPAPP assistant secretary for policy Jennifer Oreta during Wednesday’s strategic planning here.

Yolanda has created massive humanitarian intervention demands, the scale of which goes beyond the capacities of the concerned local government units.

She added that the situation poses several openings for the CPP-NPA to intensify agitation in the areas, capitalizing on the perceived inefficiency of the government to address the humanitarian crisis, and use it as platform to recruit disgruntled individuals affected by typhoon.

“Given the devastation, existing legal and underground organizations in the Samar-Leyte areas were disrupted and consequently, the CPP-NPAs’ influence was also upset so they will attempt to regroup themselves,” the official added.

“It is therefore imperative to have peace-conflict sensitivity lens in doing rehabilitation and reconstruction works,” Oreta stressed.

The government had identified the target Yolanda- affected communities wherein peace initiatives will be done along with the rehabilitation works in the towns of Sta. Rita, Basey, Villareal and Marabut in Samar; Hernani, Llorente and Gen. Mac Arthur in Eastern Samar; Carigara, Jaro, Dagami, Burauen, Albuera to include Ormoc City in Leyte.

Among the immediate needs and intervention that the government will provide are food and water relief support; shelter and reconstruction; peace, order and security aspects; livelihood, employment and commerce; and in areas of health & education.

“The government support must be synchronized in these areas to produce the maximum impact,” she added.

AFP tells media covering BIFF clearing operations to be security conscious

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): AFP tells media covering BIFF clearing operations to be security conscious

To avoid unnecessary injuries or even death, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) advised media personnel covering the clearing operations against "Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters" (BIFF) remnants in Maguindanao to be security conscious and if impossible, use proctective gear at all times.

This was in wake of two IED (improvised explosive device) attacks against military convoys where media vehicles are present.

In the first incident which took place Feb. 1, two TV5 television crewmen were wounded by shrapnel.

"Our Constitution guarantees freedom of the press (and) our AFP will not curtail that freedom but we would like to appeal to media to think of safety first before any story," AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

"We cannot dictate whether they should go or not go, what we can tell you is (that) safety is paramount over any story we will advise media when it is unsafe, we (would) like the media follow certain measures like (use) of protective," he added.

Zagala also urged media practitioners in the Maguindanao area to develop their "situational awareness" so that they will not be caught flatfooted.

PN to beef up 'RAS' capability

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): PN to beef up 'RAS' capability

The Philippine Navy is beefing up its "replenishment at sea" (RAS) with the arrival of three medium-sized tanker ships.

The ships will be coming from the Philippine National Oil Corporation as the agency is acquiring new tanker ships to boost its fuel-carrying capacity.

The vessels are arriving in May in time with the PN's 116th founding anniversary on the 21st of that month.

A PN official said with the arrival of these assets, the on station capabilities of the Navy's two Gregorio Del Pilar frigates, Jacinto class patrol vessel ships and various fast gun boats will be greatly increased as the tankers can meet and refuel these naval craft in the high seas.

BIFF deliberately attacking 'soft targets' -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): BIFF deliberately attacking 'soft targets' -- AFP

In a bid to sow terror, remnants of the "Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters" (BIFF) are deliberately attacking "soft targets" like civilians and undefended commercial and public infrastructures, Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson of the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division said Thursday.

He made this claim after the brigands deliberately placed an IED (improvised explosive device) at a water district in Kabacan town Wednesday.

Explosive ordnance teams from the Army were disarming the IED when it exploded, wounding two bystanders with shrapnel around 9 p.m.

Fortunately, the troopers defusing the IED were wearing bomb suits when the blast took place, sparing them from what could have been fatal injuries.

Hermoso said that the BIFF is attacking civilian targets to show that they still exist and pose a threat.

But the downside on this is that IEDs have proven incapable of stopping military clearing operations as their blast could not seriously hurt soldiers wearing protective equipment and armored fighting vehicles.

"What they are doing is terrorism, they are hitting 'soft targets' as they fully know that their IEDs cannot seriously soldiers and armored fighting vehicles," Hermoso added.

PHL, Canada sign accord providing defense training program for Filipino soldiers

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): PHL, Canada sign accord providing defense training program for Filipino soldiers

The Philippines and Canada on Thursday signed an agreement providing more training opportunities for Filipino military personnel.

“I am pleased to witness today this important milestone in our countries’ defense cooperation program. Canada and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have enjoyed a strong military training partnership since 1997, and today’s signing allows that partnership to continue and flourish even further” Reeder said in a statement.

Canadian ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder and AFP Deputy Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Virgilio Domingo witnessed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at Camp Aguinaldo.

“I am proud to say that to date we have trained more than 150 Philippine military personnel in Canada from all major services of the AFP,” he added.

Under the accord, AFP personnel are provided opportunities to attend training courses offered by the Canadian Armed Forces in various military training facilities in the provinces of Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

Training courses that have been provided to the AFP in the past have included peacekeeping and UN Mission staff courses; senior management courses, national security program, language courses on English and French, command and staff courses, civil-military relations, public affairs, and Naval boarding party training for the Philippine Navy.

Selection of participants from the AFP is processed through the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Education and Training (J8), Unit Training Division.

Reeder said he is confident the MOU will allow both countries “to expand and strengthen an already excellent relationship”, as was exemplified by the cooperation demonstrated by the two nations’ respective military personnel in response to super typhoon "Yolanda" last November 8.

No need to explain President Aquino’s Hitler-reference -- Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): No need to explain President Aquino’s Hitler-reference -- Palace

Despite criticisms hurled at President Benigno S. Aquino III for comparing China’s claim on West Philippine Sea to the Hitler philosophy, Malacanang said Thursday that they were not obliged to provide reasons for his reference.

The President, being the military history buff that he is, cited Hitler in an interview with The New York Times (TNYT) last Wednesday. His reference was later lashed out by an opinion writer of Chinese state-run news agency, Xinhua.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in a Palace briefing on Thursday, said that at any rate, the President was entitled to voice out what he wanted.

“I don’t think there is any move on our part to explain, the President has the right to express his views to journalists,” he said.

“It is not for me to say if people were overreacting or under-reacting,” he added, stressing that he could only explain the context of the interview.

However, Coloma said that there is still a restriction in the release of the interview transcript because of the nature of agreement with TNYT.

“When conditions would allow, then we are able to share relevant portions that may be useful in obtaining an understanding of the context for the remarks,” Coloma said.

Meanwhile, the Communications Secretary said the government was still pursing avenues for both Philippines and China to attain a closure on the territorial dispute.

“Both parties are continuing dialogues and conversations that would hopefully lead achieving mutually satisfactory results and closure,” he said.

“In the face of all developments, we remain determined to pursue the attainment of agreement because in our view that is the path that is most beneficial to our people,” he added.

10th Infantry Division participates in strategic development planning for Region XI

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): 10th Infantry Division participates in strategic development planning for Region XI

Aside from defending the nation against internal and external threats, the Philippine Army can also play a key role in economic development.

This was learned Thursday after key officers of the Davao City-based 10th Infantry Division participated in the just-concluded "Regional Development Council XI Strategic Planning Conference for 2014 to 2016."

This took place last Feb. 4 to 5 at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Lanang, Davao City.

Major Gen. Ariel Bernardo, 10th Infantry Division commander, said they are now seeking a deeper and more comprehensive involvement in the regional strategic planning, particularly on economic development and poverty alleviation which are being linked directly to armed hostilities.

The RDC XI Strategic Planning Conference was chaired by National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) XI Regional Director Maria Lourdes D. Lim, and facilitated by resource persons Dr. Cayetano W. Padranga Jr. of the Development Academy of the Philippines, University of the Philippines School of Economics, and NEDA National Development Office for Policy and Planning Assistance Director General Rosemarie G. Edillon.

Its main objective was to come up with a thoroughly consultative review of policies and systems in place, region specific strengths and weaknesses and key stakeholder involvement in the crafting of action plans specific to development in Region XI.

“The reason why we need to be involved here is precisely because of the need for a whole of nation approach to our insurgency problem, as iterated in the IPSP 'Bayanihan'. We already know that we cannot solve armed conflicts with an armed solution alone,” Bernardo said.

“One specific reason why we’re here is that when we clear the areas of armed threats and the development doesn’t follow, they just go back to what they were, and then we have a vicious cycle. We really have to achieve a synchrony, and that includes all of us who want genuine peace and progress here in Region XI,” he added.

Since 2010, the 10th Infantry Division has been involved in peace and development operations in its area of responsibility which largely consists of provinces of Region XI.

Since the start of the campaign, the insurgency levels in five provinces have already been deemed to be controllable enough for the local government to take the leading role in internal security.

In 2013 alone, there had been more than 165 rebel surrenders to the 10th Infantry Division.

DND asks Senate to increase AFP intelligence fund

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): DND asks Senate to increase AFP intelligence fund

Department of National Defense (DND) secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday requested the Senate to increase the intelligence fund of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to ‘avoid repetition’ of the Zamboanga siege in September last year.

”We would want to enhance AFP capability to deter any aggressive intent, meaning we need sophisticated equipment for our intelligence capability and then increase the intelligence for security forces, meaning increase the intelligence funds for AFP,” Gazmin said in the Senate inquiry into the Zambo attack.

Gazmin also recommended to pursue the persecution of criminal cases and obtain conviction of those responsible in the bloody Zamboanga siege perpetrated by some 200 armed followers of former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari.

”These are the recommendations of the DND and AFP so that we avoid a repetition of this event. The AFP will pursue and perform their mandate in protecting our people,” Gazmin said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense, said the Senate will try to work on the DND’s request for increase intelligence fund.

”Hopefully in this new budget cycle, we will be able to increase those requests,” Trillanes, a former Navy officer, said.

Trillanes revealed that he has recommended the realignment of the P200 million pork barrel fund of Vice President Jejomar Binay for the AFP and Philippine National Police.

”But eventually, he (Binay) wanted it scrapped that our security forces won’t be able to avail of it. It is unfortunate,” Trillanes said.

On the DND’s request to pursue persecution of criminal cases, Trillanes said the request will be tackled in executive session with the AFP officials.

During the Senate probe, Trillanes stressed the need for both the local and national governments and other concerned agencies to come up with effective protocol to resolve crisis similar to Zamboanga incident in the future.

”That’s precisely why we are here. We are trying to establish protocol for the future reactions of government,” Trillanes said.

Trillanes commended the military for their effort to end the Zamboanga siege although it was achieved at “a very high prize” after it left many people dead mostly from MNLF side and forced the government to evacuate 120,000 people.

”We have seen the military option is quite effective. They were able to accomplished their mission but a very high prize. It should not be first option in the future occurrences,” Trillanes said.

The fighting reportedly cost Zamboanga City some P6 billion as flights were cancelled, most of the commercial establishments closed and thousands of homes, stores, commercial and industrial buildings were damaged during the deadly clashes between government troops and Misuari fighters.

Misuari reportedly claimed the government has abandoned the tripartite review of the implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement in favor of holding peace talks with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

President Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAP) Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles insisted during the Senate hearing that government did not turn its back on the MNLF.

"We will not abandoned them. They (MNLF) will also experience the dividends of the peace process (with MILF),” Deles said.

Deles said the government is even inviting the MNLF to participate in the process of crafting Bangsamoro basic law as the result of the signing of framework agreement and its annexes between the government peace panel and the MILF.

Palace cites developments in position to defend West PHL Sea

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): Palace cites developments in position to defend West PHL Sea

Malacanang on Thursday noted that developments have been observed since the Philippines began defending sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in a Palace briefing, said that one of these developments was through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“The voices of the members of ASEAN have been heard and they have said that they would want to flesh out the document on the Code of Conduct on the Law of the Sea,” Coloma said.

According to him, the document has been dormant for more than a decade until the Philippines asserted its position that the document should be the guide for all actions.

Coloma further said that the Philippines also observed the acceptance by member-countries of the need for an "ASEAN-centric" position which was manifested in the joint statement following the ASEAN-Japan Summit in December.

“This was the document that they released after meeting in Tokyo in December 2013 where they expressed solidarity on the principles of freedom of navigation, freedom of aviation, and promoting the rule of law," he said.

“All things considered, our advocacy of rules-based approach and respect for the rule of law has gained credence, has gained support from the region, and has also been affirmed by other countries such as the US and Japan that are not members of ASEAN,” he added.