Saturday, February 22, 2014

Military accuses NPA of burning cadaver of slain soldier

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 23): Military accuses NPA of burning cadaver of slain soldier

The military has accused the New People’s Army of committing “unconscionable and dastardly act” when rebels allegedly burned the cadaver of an Army soldier they killed in an ambush on Friday.

Lt. Col. Patricio Amata, commander of the 73rd Infantry Battalion, said Corporal Noel Pascual and Sergeant Johnson Dumasia were on two motorcycles and were passing by Sitio Paet in Barangay Alegria in Alabel, Sarangani around 9 a.m. Friday when fired at by NPA rebels.

He said the soldiers were unarmed as they were only doing some marketing chores and were not able to fire back.

Pascual, according to Amata, died instantly while the wounded Dumasia “managed to survive by jumping from his motorcycle and rolling off a ravine.”

“Not contented at being able to kill Pascual, they burned his cadaver including the two motorcycles used by the victims,” Amata said.

He said the incident showed how “inhuman and barbaric” the NPA can go to achieve its objective of inflicting harm on soldiers.

Military says expulsion of BIFF leader from group a 'propaganda'

From the Philippine Star (Feb 20): Military says expulsion of BIFF leader from group a 'propaganda'

The military on Thursday branded as "damage control propaganda” the reported expulsion from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters of a senior member for leading last year’s decapitation of a farmer as they plundered several villages in North Cotabato last year.

The spokesman of the outlawed BIFF, Abu Misry Mama, was reported on Wednesday by the Associated Press as saying that Imam Ali Tambako had been expelled from the group for the offense.

Misry had reportedly said that Tambako’s having been booted out was a proof that the BIFF do not engage in inhumane conduct while fighting for a puritan Islamic state in Southern Mindanao.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the BIFF would have gained good impression if it had turned over Tambako to the police for prosecution.

Hermoso told the Oblate Media that the announcement was an apparent “damage control” effort to make up for adverse impact to the group of its use of “child warriors,” and banditry to sustain the needs of its forces.

Close to 30 leaders of the BIFF, including the group’s founder, Ameril Ombra Kato, a Saudi-trained cleric, faces criminal cases in local courts.

They have been charged in connection with the BIFF’s spate of attacks on farming communities in Maguindanao and North Cotabato since 2012.

The group has been staging bombings, kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry and could not gain acceptability despite Tambako's expulsion, Hermoso said.

The BIFF was established by Kato in 2011 after he was booted out from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for insubordination and irreconcilable differences with the MILF’s central committee, which is led by Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim.

The BIFF is not a party to the on-going peace overture between the government and the MILF. The outlawed group is not covered either by the government-MILF July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities.

The MILF’s chief negotiator, Muhaquer Iqbal, had earlier told Mindanao Cross that they have exhausted every possible means of wooing Kato back, but failed.

“But we have not cut the bridge that can reconnect them to the MILF,” Iqbal then said.
Iqbal, however, said the BIFF must recommit to the religious and humanitarian ideals of the MILF and support the peace process in case it decides to return.

Tambako and about 30 of his armed followers were expelled after violating the breakaway rebel group's policies and for staging the beheading, according to Misry.

The breakaway Bangsamoro group does not practice such brutal acts like the violent Abu Sayyaf group, Misry said.

"We're aspiring for a Islamic way of life and such violent acts are un-Islamic," Misry said.

Government officials in Central Mindanao said there is a possibility that the US government would include the BIFF in its list of terrorist organizations, just like Southern Mindanao’s Abu Sayyaf group (ASG).

The ASG, said to have links with al-Qaeda and its Asian cell, the Jemmah Islamiya, is notorious for deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.

Washington had listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization.

Hermoso said the BIFF drew flak from local and international peace advocacy groups for using child combatants in banditry and other criminal activities.

“Now the group is trying to create a good impression by insinuating that it had acted on misbehaviors of some members. That will not work,” Hermoso said.

Filipina documentary makers freed from Abu Sayyaf captivity

Fro al-Arabiya News (Feb 21): Filipina documentary makers freed from Abu Sayyaf captivity

Two Filipino sisters kidnapped by Muslim extremists eight months ago escaped their captors in the jungles of the southern Philippines and told authorities they were kept in isolation in a hut on a meager diet.

Nadjoua and Linda Bansil were abducted by the brutal militant group Abu Sayyaf when they traveled to the restive Jolo island, a militant stronghold, for a video documentary about the lives of poor coffee farmers in the predominantly Muslim region.

Philippine marines found them before nightfall Thursday in Buhanginan village in the mountainous town of Patikul, clad in black Muslim dresses that exposed only their eyes. One of the women was fondly cradling a cat, marine Capt. Ryan Lacuesta said.

They said that their captors often kept them in isolation in the mountain and the cat gave them company and pleasure,” Lacuesta told The Associated Press by telephone from Jolo.

He quoted one of the women as saying they had shared their food with the cat and that the pet they named Juanita was fatter than them. It wasn't clear how they acquired the cat.

He said that the women lost a lot of weight but were otherwise fine.

They were taken to a military trauma center in Jolo for medical check-up, given their first meal and then flown to southern Zamboanga city, where they were briefly presented to journalists. Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrerro did not allow the women to be interviewed, saying they were exhausted.

A brother of the women, Mohammed, told reporters he'll accompany his sisters back home to their mother in Manila. He said he refrained from asking them details about their captivity until they recovered.

The Abu Sayyaf had demanded 50 million pesos ransom ($1.1 million) in exchange for the sisters' freedom, but Lacuesta said it was not clear if money had changed hands. Constant military assaults and search operations put pressure the kidnappers to let go of their captives, he said.

The women said that their captors moved them often from one jungle encampment to another to avoid being tracked by government forces. They were fed rice, dried fish and root crops and often were detained in a hut. When a marine patrol approached Thursday, their guards ran away and the women dashed to freedom, Lacuesta said.

The sisters were born in Algeria to an Algerian mother and a Filipino father but grew up in the Philippines, where they have produced independent films in recent years.

Abu Sayyaf militants still hold about a dozen hostages in the jungles of Sulu, including two European bird watchers who were kidnapped two years ago, Sulu military commander Col. Jose Cenabre said.

NPA claims 8 soldiers killed in Davao Sur, North Cotabato attacks

From the Manila Times (Feb 22): NPA claims 8 soldiers killed in Davao Sur, North Cotabato attacks

Communist rebels took responsibility for attacking government troops in the southern Philippine provinces of Davao del Sur and North Cotabato that killed at least eight soldiers.

 Isabel Fermiza, a spokesperson for the New People’s Army (NPA), said the rebel offensive was launched by the Guerrilla Front 51 Operations Command under the Mount Apo Sub-regional Command, in Digos and Makilala towns, where the 39th Infantry Battalion of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division is based.

 Fermiza said rebel forces bombed an army detachment in the village of Old Bulatukan in Makilala and ambushed troops in Goma village in Digos.

 He said eight soldiers were killed and nine were wounded. The NPA lost one fighter, who Fermiza identified as Ka Jiboy, and two other NPA guerrillas were wounded.

 Fermiza said government soldiers were behind the detention of indigenous villagers, who were just hunting in the forest of Makilala, and interrogated them for many hours until local officials pleaded for their safe release.

He identified the villagers as Elorde Panggilan, Denis Panggilan, Dexter Panggilan, Ariel Panggilan, Randy Emban, Lodring Emban, Ryan Baclao, Jonel de Guzman, Wowie de Guzman, Henry Ando and Roel de Vera.

“The incident was a prelude to more abusive activities by the 39th Infantry Battalion Special Operations Teams in Makilala, ranging from psychological warfare, forced surrender, and encampment in civilian structures in all of the town’s barangays,” Fermiza said.

The 10th Infantry Division earlier declared Davao del Sur as free from rebel influence. There was no immediate reaction from army officials about the NPA’s claims.

China, Japan need dialogue to avoid ‘miscalculations’: US general

From the Manila Times (Feb 22): China, Japan need dialogue to avoid ‘miscalculations’: US general

US Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno on Saturday said Beijing and Tokyo must enhance communication to avoid “miscalculations” amid a simmering territorial dispute over islands in the East China Sea.

Odierno, a four star general, spoke during a visit to China where he has held talks with military officials aimed at establishing a formal high-level dialogue between the US and Chinese armies in the coming months.

“We reinforced the importance of dialogue and discussion between the Japanese and the Chinese regarding this issue,” Odierno told reporters. “We have to be careful and ensure that there are no miscalculations along the way.”

Tokyo and Beijing are locked in a bitter territorial row over Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea which China also claims and calls the Diaoyu.

Tensions between the two nations dramatically intensified after Japan nationalized some of the islands in September 2012, with ships and aircraft from both countries regularly patrolling waters around the contested territory.

The dispute has also on occasion come perilously close to boiling over into armed clashes.

Last February, Japan accused a Chinese frigate of directing a weapon-targeting radar at a Japanese warship in the East China Sea.

“We do have a treaty with Japan, a defense treaty, but the most important piece is that we in fact emphasize the importance of this continued dialogue to solve this problem,” Odierno said.

Dialogue at a standstill

Dialogue between China and Japan, however, has come to a virtual standstill as the island dispute has intensified.

China’s President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have never held a formal bilateral summit, only short encounters at global and regional meetings.

The prospects for dialogue dimmed further in December when Abe visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine which honors Japan’s war dead including convicted war criminals who were executed at the end of World War II.

Beijing views the shrine as a symbol of Japanese war-time militarism and Tokyo’s lack of repentance for atrocities committed in the last century.

On Wednesday, Japan’s Jiji Press quoted Captain James Fanell, intelligence chief for the US Pacific Fleet, as telling a forum that China has tasked its military to become capable of conducting “a short sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea”.

Odierno, however, dismissed such reports when asked to comment.

“I’ve seen no indications of that at all,” he said.

Odierno was scheduled for more talks on Saturday, traveling to China’s Shenyang Military Region, which borders North Korea.

“For me, we had frank, honest, important discussions about security, stability in the Asia-Pacific region” as well as beyond, he said of discussions in Beijing.

But Odierno emphasized that the talks centered on establishing “army-to-army dialogue” and were spurred by meetings held between Xi and President Barack Obama last year.

“Our visit has really focused on this dialogue and really working through our future military-to-military relationship,” he said.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, the top US commander in the Pacific, expressed concern last month that he has no direct line to his counterpart in China in the case of a crisis in the region.

The United States and China agreed to set up a direct telephone link between the two countries’ defence ministries in 2008—but it has yet to be tested in an emergency.

In December, a US-guided missile warship, the Cowpens, had to make a sharp turn to avoid colliding with a Chinese naval ship that cut in front of it, according to the Pentagon.

Odierno said that greater familiarity will lessen the chance of problems down the line.
“I think that enables you to reduce the risk of miscalculation,” he said.

“Throughout history miscalculation is what’s caused conflict. And our goal is to do all we can to make sure that we don’t have miscaclulation.”

Soldier killed in NPA ambush

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 22): Soldier killed in NPA ambush

An army soldier was killed while another was injured after they were ambushed by communist rebels in Alabel, Sarangani last Friday.

Lt. Col. Patricio Amata, 73rd Infantry Battalion commander, identified the fatality as Corporal Noel Pascua, 35 and the wounded soldier as Sgt. Jonathan Dumasia, both members of 73rd IB.

Amata said the soldiers were aboard their respective motorcycles on their way home to Poblacion, Alabel after conducting peace and development outreach programs when they were waylaid by at least seven New People’s Army rebels in sitio Paet, Barangay Datal Anggas.

He said the NPA rebels also burned the two motorcycles used by the victims.

“Additional troops have been deployed to track down the rebels who are believed holed out in the mountainous area of Barangay Datal Anggas,” Amata said.

Last month, suspected NPA rebels burned down a fleet of heavy equipment owned by a private contractor undertaking a government road project in a remote village in Barangay Kihan, Malapatan, Sarangani.

Albay: Army’s ‘Bayanihan’ activity harassed

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 22): Albay: Army’s ‘Bayanihan’ activity harassed

Terrorists tried to harass a group of Army men and government officials conducting countryside development projects in Guinobatan town yesterday, leaving one army man wounded.

Captain Alexander Palacio, Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Brigade commander, said Private First Class (PFC) Raymund Pilosopo sustained a bullet wound in the chest when armed men swooped down on their position around 10 a.m. yesterday.

The soldiers from “Team Bayanihan” was then with Department of Agriculture (DA) representatives, conducting a countryside development program in Barangay Balete.

Pilosopo was taken to the Aquinas Hospital, Legazpi City for medical treatment.

Meanwhile, in Camp Nakar, Lucena City, 13 suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels including a top-ranking officer of Bicol Regional Party Committee (BRPC) of the NPA had been neutralized for the period starting January 2014.

Lt. Gen. Caesar Ronnie Ordoyo, Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) chief, said that among the surrenderers was George Geluz or Mario dela Cruz, alias “Ka Mulong,” the secretary of the NPA in Bicol.

Last week, Ramil C. Burigas, or “Ka Jake” of Camarines Sur, turned over his 9mm pistol and other war items, including an improvised explosive device, one six wired blasting cap, detonating cords, electrical wires and one detonator switch, and presented subversive documents and 47 compact discs, said Ordoyo.

No deal, no PNoy-Joma meeting

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 22): No deal, no PNoy-Joma meeting

There won’t be any meeting between President Benigno S. Aquino III and Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison unless a peace agreement is reached between the government and the rebel group.

Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte yesterday said the President’s position has not changed on the matter.

“This was raised a couple of years back, and I remember that was what the President said, that it would be better if the meeting will take place when a peace agreement is already up for signing,” Valte said in an interview with government radio dzRB yesterday.

Valte issued the statement after Presidential Communications Operations (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. was reported to have said that the government is “keeping an open mind” to the proposed meeting between Aquino and Sison.

20 NPAs charged for Batangas arson

From the Philippine Star (Feb 21): 20 NPAs charged for Batangas arson

Charges were filed against 20 suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, including a female member of the so-called “Morong 43,” for the torching of eight buses of Jam Liner at its terminal in Lemery town last Sunday morning.

Senior Superintendent Omega Jireh Fidel, Batangas police director, said charges of arson and robbery were filed against a certain Janice Javier, an alleged NPA member who was positively identified by witnesses as among the attackers, and 19 John Does.

Fidel said Javier’s picture was in the police rogues’ gallery as she was among the “Morong 43” arrested in Morong, Rizal on Feb. 6, 2010 for alleged possession of firearms and explosives.

The group referred to 43 health workers, many of whom were tagged by police and the military as NPA members, including one Ramon/Romeo de la Cruz who was killed in an encounter with the Army in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan on Aug. 9 last year.

Police earlier released the composite facial sketches of two of the arsonists – a man and a woman, who was later identified as Javier.

Troops clash with BIFF gunmen in Maguindanao province

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Feb 22): Troops clash with BIFF gunmen in Maguindanao province

Lt. Col. Donald Hongitan, commander of the 45th Infantry Battalion, and two other army officers inspect BIFF weapons recovered by troops following a clash with rebels in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo – Mark Navales)

Government troops clashed with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao where the rebel group is operating, officials said Saturday.

Officials said the clash occurred in the village called Shariff Saydona after patrolling troops ran into a band of rebels.

There were no reports of casualties in the fighting, but Lt. Col. Donald Hongitan, commander of the 45th Infantry Battalion, said troops recovered three automatic rifles left behind by fleeing rebels.

Hongitan said the fighting lasted about 30 minutes and only stopped after the BIFF broke into smaller groups and fled.

The BIFF, armed wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement under Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, split with the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is negotiating peace with Manila.

Troops, cops capture wanted man in Zamboanga province

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Feb 22): Troops, cops capture wanted man in Zamboanga province

Security forces captured a man wanted for murder after a long chase in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga Sibugay, officials said.

Officials said Kaham Manguda was captured after being shot in the leg by a government militia while trying to escape in Lower Camanga village on Malangas town.

Capt. Jefferson Mamauag, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, said two other cohorts of Manguda escaped and is being hunted by soldiers and policemen. He said members of the 16th Special Forces Company and local police force launched the operation after a local court issued a warrant for Manguda’s arrest.

He said the group of Manguda spotted the arrival of soldiers and policemen and ran away to evade arrest. Manguda was brought by soldiers to the Diplahan Hospital and is being guarded by the police.

Maj. General Felicito Virgilio Trinidad, Jr, the division commander, praised those involved in the arrest of Manguda, but officials did not release any details or information about Manguda’s case.

Special Forces seized boat loaded with illegal lumber off Basilan province

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Feb 22): Special Forces seized boat loaded with illegal lumber off Basilan province

Government soldiers handed over a boatload of confiscated lumber in Basilan province in the Muslim autonomous region, an army spokesman said Saturday.

Capt. Jefferson Mamauag, of the 1st Infantry Division, said members of the Special Forces seized the 50-foot boat transporting some 2,500 board feet of Yakal or Shora astylosa. The boat was bound for Zamboanga City when intercepted by soldiers.

Mamauag said the group of Lt. Col. Eliglen Villaflor was patrolling the shorelines when it spotted the boat. Villaflor, in his report, said villagers have earlier tipped them off about the lumber which came from the town of Sumisip.

He said troops escorted the boat to a patrol base and handed it over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Maj. Gen. Felicito Virgilio Trinidad, Jr, the division commander, commended the efforts of the 4th Special Forces Battalion for the apprehension of the boat.

“The accomplishment manifests the growing concern and vigilance of the residents in Basilan against illegal logging. Indeed, this is a clear sign that the spirit of Bayanihan is alive in this part of the country,” he said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Sayyaf seized 2 construction workers

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Feb 22): Sayyaf seized 2 construction workers

Police said suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen seized two Muslim men on Saturday in the southern Philippine province of Sulu.

Police said the victims Kilder and Jimal were seized in the village of Liang in Patikul town, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for the spate of kidnappings for ransom and terrorism in the southern Philippines.

The duo was driving a truck heading to Jolo town when gunmen flagged down the vehicle at a checkpoint. The motive of the abduction is still unknown.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the abduction of the two men, who are both construction workers in Sulu.

Lacson says PMA cadet’s behavior is unheard of

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 22): Lacson says PMA cadet’s behavior is unheard of

Philippine Military Academy Cadet First Class Aldrin Jeff Cudia’s act of challenging the decision of fellow cadets who found him guilty of violating their honor code was unheard of, according to Panfilo Lacson, a member of PMA Class of 1971.

“This is unprecedented. This is the first time I have heard of a cadet who resisted the decision of the honor committee,” said Lacson, President Benigno Aquino’s assistant for rehabilitation and recovery.

“One cannot challenge the decision of the honor committee. We consider it infallible, rightly or wrongly. It cannot make mistakes because it is a committee of peers and the ones chosen to be in the committee are [cadets] who have the highest respect of their fellow cadets,” Lacson said in a telephone interview.

Those who are tried by the honor committee are “ostracized” by the entire cadet corps “until they are pressured to resign,” he said.

“Because you will be all alone, no one will deal with you. You will be treated like you don’t exist. Even the plebes won’t salute you or call you ‘Sir’ because you had violated a time-honored tradition. (Cudia’s) is a unique case where a cadet has been tried, found guilty, and he is now fighting the decision,” Lacson said.

Cudia was subjected to trial by the honor committee for allegedly lying about why he was late for class.

Cudia was set to graduate salutatorian of the “Siklab Diwa” Class of 2014 and receive the Philippine Navy saber as the top cadet to join the naval force.

AFP Chief General Emmanuel Bautista (PMA Class 1981) has ordered a review and reinvestigation of Cudia’s case.

Lacson’s comment was sought because only a week ago he was the keynote speaker at the PMA homecoming where the central theme of his speech was the sanctity of the honor code.

Only four days after Lacson exhorted the PMA alumni to live up to the honor code beyond the grounds of the PMA, the controversy involving Cudia erupted and the corruption issues that hounded the Armed Forces of the Philippines all came back.

On Friday, a number of PMA alumni began using their cadet photos as their Facebook profile pictures to show support for their alma mater, the honor code and the honor system that they follow at the academy.

An attack on the honor code and the honor system “shakes the very foundation of the long gray line,” said an Army captain who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Many feel that the whole issue now is an assault on the PMA and the honor code,” the junior officer said.

The phrase “the long gray line” is used to describe, as a continuum, all graduates and cadets of the US Military Academy at West Point.

The PMA, which was modeled after West Point and established with the help of the Americans, has adopted the usage. Its cadets also wear white and gray uniforms similar to West Point’s.

“Hopefully, it (the PMA) comes out stronger after all of these have passed,” Bautista said.

Lacson does not agree that the Cudia controversy that has focused the spotlight on erring PMA alumni has shaken the long gray line.

“There were those who had fallen out of the line but many are still staying in the line,” he said.

Alumni of the PMA and the Officers Candidate School (OCS), which upholds the same honor code and system, said it would be difficult for non-cadets to understand the tradition followed by the cadets.

“The honor code is inculcated in us since Day 1. At least in the four years of our cadetship, there is no compromise. When we graduate, then there are issues here and there but we are expected to retain the core values,” Lacson said.

The honor committee usually convenes in the dead of night to try a cadet because it is a secret proceeding.

Lacson said that as far as he knows, there is not even a transcript of the proceedings to emphasize its secrecy.

An OCS alumnus told the Inquirer that during a trial, the honor committee members are dressed in their study uniforms, which consists of gray pants, tie and sweater.

But the one on trial is in full dress uniform, “because it is the last time that he or she might wear it,” the official said.

A cadet who has been found guilty of violating the honor code quietly leaves the academy grounds.

But not Cudia, apparently.

PH-Australia agree to continue defense, security cooperation

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 20): PH-Australia agree to continue defense, security cooperation

DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop after their joint press conference on the fourth Philippine-Australia Ministerial Meeting Thursday. MATIKAS SANTOS/

Australia and the Philippines have agreed on continued defense and security cooperation particularly in counter-terrorism efforts, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Thursday.

“We agreed to continue advancing our defense and security cooperation including focusing on counter-terrorism with the holding of the fourth round of bilateral counter-terrorism consultations this year,” del Rosario told reporters in a press conference Thursday.

“We also agreed on convening the second strategic dialogue which brings together our foreign affairs and defense officials in discussing and coordinating on issues of mutual and strategic concerns,” he said.

Del Rosario met with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop Thursday for the fourth annual Philippine-Australia Ministerial Meeting.

The Philippines’ Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with Australia was entered into force on September 2012 and del Rosario believes that this agreement will improve the way Philippines addresses maritime security as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Del Rosario said that the bilateral agreement “facilitated the humanitarian and disaster response operation of the Australian Defense Force in the typhoon affected areas in the central Philippines.”

Department of Trade and Investment Secretary Gregory Domingo was also present in the meeting to discuss trade and economic ties with his Australian counterpart Andrew Robb.

PAF going back to supersonic age with South Korean jets

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 22): PAF going back to supersonic age with South Korean jets

GIVING FORCE TO PHILIPPINE AIR This is the kind of fighter jet—called the FA-50—the Philippines hopes to acquire from South Korea following President Aquino’s two-day visit to Seoul. This combat aircraft can carry an array of weaponry, such as air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, and precision-guided bombers, and is equipped with a night vision imaging system. PHOTO FROM WWW.KOREAAERO.COM
The Department of National Defense on Friday completed negotiations with a Korean aerospace company for a squadron of FA-50 lead-in fighter trainer jets, bringing the Philippine military a step closer to returning to the supersonic age after nearly a decade of relying on helicopters and fixed-wing, propeller-type aircraft.

“I will say that, yes, we can now boast a little about our capability. I will not be ashamed to accept… that we are back to the supersonic age,” Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo, a retired Philippine Air Force (PAF) general, told reporters after the negotiations.

Manalo said the FA-50s were “not ordinary lead-in fighter jets because it can deliver short-range missiles.”

“There is a potential for these to be classified as beyond the short-range fighter aircraft,” Manalo said.

He said the defense department and the state-owned Korea Aerospace Industries Inc. (KAI) would sign the $415.7-million contract later this month or early March.

The first two of the 12 aircraft will be delivered to the Philippines 18 months after the contract is signed, Manalo said. The next two will be delivered 12 months after the initial delivery.

Gov’t-to-gov’t deal

The Philippines’ acquisition of the FA-50s was a highlight of the state visit of President Benigno Aquino III to South Korea last October.

Mr. Aquino said then that the procurement was to be a government-to-government agreement.

The acquisition of the FA-50s is one of the 24 projects under the P85-billion Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program aimed at giving the military a “minimum credible defense capability.”

The AFP was the first military in the region to attain the supersonic capability.

But that capability declined through the years, with the PAF returning to the subsonic age after it retired its Northrop F-5s in 2005.

When the Aquino administration took over in 2010, one of its key priority programs was to modernize the AFP amid China’s aggressively asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Limited capabilities

Col. Ernesto Miguel Okol, PAF spokesperson, told the Inquirer by phone that the FA-50s can “essentially perform limited fighter capabilities.”

“It has the qualities (of a fighter jet), has defense weapons. It’s (in the) supersonic regime. It can carry precision guided munitions and AIM-9 air-to-air missiles,” said Okol, an F-5 pilot.

The FA-50, Okol said, is a step lower than a multirole aircraft, which is designed as a fighter plane.

He said the FA-50 could “train us to get to that regime because its cockpit is already state of the art. It has a radar that can track other targets.”

Final meeting

Friday’s final meeting between the KAI officials and the defense and military officials ran for nearly three hours.

The talks centered on whether the Korean company should assume any amount in excess of the estimated $5.938 million buyer furnished equipment (BFE) and KAI’s proposal to reduce by $500,000 or P22 million the cost of spare parts.

The buyer furnished equipment are the components of the aircraft that the Philippine government would have to buy from the United States.

A weaker peso could raise the acquisition cost of the BFE, and ultimately affect the P18.976 billion earmarked for the project.

At the start, the KAI officials bucked the proposal, prompting the defense department’s special bids and awards committee headed by Manalo, the technical working group, and the observers to hold an executive session.

The Filipinos maintained their position, making the KAI officials hold an executive session of their own.

The Koreans later agreed to assume any amount in excess of the $5.938 million BEF. They also maintained the spare parts cost reduction.

The Filipinos held another executive session and emerged agreeing to KAI’s final offer, which signaled the end of the seven-month negotiation.
Applause erupted around the table, with both the Filipinos and the Koreans thanking each other.

A KAI official told the Filipino officials: “We promise you that we will implement the FA-50 program very successfully.”

Pilot training
The contract with KAI will include the training of PAF pilots.
Manalo said the bids and awards committee also decided to forgo the postqualification process.

Asked by a representative of the Korean Trade and Investment Promotion Agency if there was a “special reason” for waiving the postqualification process, Manalo replied: “We negotiated with the government of the Republic of Korea and we are confident that KAI will be able to deliver and will be responsible. This is a government-to-government procurement. Why would we negotiate with you if we are not confident?”

Ping hit for ‘red tagging’

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 22): Ping hit for ‘red tagging’

‘Smear may lead to witch hunt among storm victims’

THE leftist Bagong Alyansang Makabayan slammed rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson Friday for accusing the communists of using survivors of super typhoon Yolanda as pawns to destabilize the government.

“Shame on Secretary Lacson for resorting to red-tagging just to cover up the government’s incompetence in addressing the needs of Yolanda victims,” Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr. said.

Compassionate indignation. Youth activitists pelt an
effigy of President Benigno Aquiino with tomatoes after
he scolded typhoon victims for coming to Manila to complain
instead of attending to their livelihood. SONNY ESPIRITU

Reyes said Lacson’s statement gave state security forces blanket authority to conduct a witch hunt among the calamity victims.

“By calling the victims communist pawns and by calling Bayan a communist front, he’s inciting the Armed Forces of the Philippines to commit rights violations against the victims,” the Bayan official said. “It seems that the government’s eventual response to the demands [of the survivors] will be repression.”

Efleda Bautista, executive vice chairperson of People Surge, an alliance of Yolanda survivors, denied Lacson’s charges and said his red-bating tactic only showed that the administration of President Benigno Aquino III had no one capable in charge of rebuilding the storm devastated areas, and that its reconstruction plan itself was bogus.

“It was not the Yolanda survivors who were destabilizing the country but the Aquino government itself,” Bautista said. “Lacson’s smearing of the Yolanda survivors is rubbing salt into our wounds and should not be dignified with a response.”

Instead of responding promptly to the complaints of the slow pace of rehabilitation efforts in the storm-battered areas, Lacson was engaging in a smear campaign, she said, urging the President to sack his rehabilitation czar.

“Moreover, it is not Bayan or People Surge alone that has criticized the Aquino government response to Yolanda, but also the international community including the United Nations, because everyone is interested that the administration get its act together in the common goal of helping the survivors.”

Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan also tore into Lacson.

“They are victims seeking help because the national government has failed to address their problems . They are desperate. Now they are accused as [communist] pawns?!” Ilagan said. “Don’t they have their own minds? Their spokesperson is a nun!” Ilagan said, referring to Sister Edita Eslopor, the convenor of People Surge.

Ilagan added the Yolanda victims and survivors do not deserve the harsh treatment from the Aquino government.

She also slammed Lacson for resorting to scare tactics against the Yolanda victims.

“How typical of a former military man like Lacson to use the scare tactics to justify their incompetence and lack of compassion,” she said.

Lacson said Thursday that People Surge was being used by the communists to destabilize the government.

“It is becoming obvious that their agenda is destabilization and not the welfare of the Yolanda survivors,” Lacson said. “Based on intelligence reports, the super typhoon also affected the cadre infrastructure of the New People’s Army in Eastern Visayas. So they are now using the survivors to rebuild their network.”

Lacson identified Bayan, which he described as a “legal front” of the Communist Party of the Philippines, as among those steering the propaganda campaign of People Surge.

“If we did not know that Bayan is supporting the group, we can say that they are making these calls out of their bleeding hearts. But why are they suddenly calling for the President to step down? That sounds like destabilization to me,” he said.

But Bautista said there was nothing wrong in accepting Bayan’s help.
“It is unseemly for the Aquino government to question the motives of Bayan and its associates in helping the Yolanda survivors, when the support of everyone willing to help in a time of humanitarian crisis is welcome,” she said.

Bautista earlier challenged President Benigno Aquino III to step down if he insists on ignoring the demands of the calamity victims for P40,000 in financial assistance per family.

“If the President cannot address the crisis caused by Yolanda as well as other issues of real concern to the people, his capability to govern is already under question. The petition signed by 17,000 Yolanda survivors was a polite reminder to the government of its shortcomings, but President Aquino virtually tore it up and laughed in the faces of the typhoon survivors. We do not deserve this, and we think the rest of the Filipino people agree with us,” Bautista said.

“Noynoy Aquino does not care about the Yolanda survivors, he does not care about what the Filipino people think of his callousness, and does not care that millions in Eastern Visayas are now entering a period of unparalleled hunger and desperation. He is more calamitous than typhoons Pablo, Ondoy and Yolanda as well as the Bohol earthquake...We believe now the Filipino people have suffered long enough and it is time to save ourselves from the disastrous President Aquino,” she added.

Aside from the cash demand, People Surge also asked the government to recall its no-build zone policy to allow survivors.

“The people have absolutely nothing and all the President is giving them is hot air. If the life of the poor is too difficult for him to imagine that he won’t lift a finger, we suggest he try living in a tent or a bunkhouse, and eating porridge every day for the rest of the year like many Yolanda survivors still do,” she said.

“Eastern Visayas has been left in a state of socio-economic ruin. The major cash and staple crops are devastated. The people lost homes and livelihood and face looming starvation. But the government reconstruction plan is not addressing basic problems,” Bautista said.

She noted that agricultural losses in the region alone amounted to P65 billion, but the government’s reconstruction program set aside only P18.7 billion for all affected areas.

PMA cadets ostracize Cudia

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 23): PMA cadets ostracize Cudia

THE Philippine Military Academy Corps of Cadets begun on Saturday to ostracize cadet Aldrin Jeff Cudia after he filed charges against the nine-member the academy’s Honor Committee that earlier ruled to discharge him from the military service.

“It was the decision of the cadet corps to ostracize Cudia because they do not like what Cudia is doing,” PMA Spokesperson Major Lynette Flores said in an interview.

The decision of the Cadet Corps to ostracize Cudia emerged after Cudia’s case following the guilty verdict handed by the Honor Committee accusing him of lying was made public, putting the entire cadet corps on the spot.

Flores said it was not the decision of the PMA but the cadet corps itself and Flores said that meant no one will speak or go near Cudia.

“The case of Cudia should not have been made public and should have remained confidential,” Flores said.

Cudia filed a counter honor report to a separate honor committee accusing the former nine members of the committee that handed a resolution of a guilty verdict against him after he found lying.

“The report has already been submitted to the Honor Committee,” Flores said citing that the separate committee would be composed of six members from the graduating class and 3 from the PMA’s second class.

However, Flores said the new honor committee that will hear the case of Cudia has not yet been convened and Cudia remains at a holding center where he is allowed visitors, including his family.

“He is very much free to see them. It’s Cudia’s free will to stay in the academy,” Flores said.

Flores stressed that Cudia has been administratively discharged from the PMA and dropped from the rolls of the armed forces after he was found guilty of violating the Honor Code.

The case of Cudia remained the subject of a serious discussion among ranking military officers, particularly inside PMA while a reinvestigation, in line with the directive of AFP chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista over the intriguing issue.

“We will be undertaking the review of the case as per guidance of the chief of staff,” Flores said.

Military protests alleged extortion by MILF commanders in North Cotabato

From GMA News (Feb 21): Military protests alleged extortion by MILF commanders in North Cotabato

The Army's 602nd Brigade has filed a protest before the joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities over alleged extortion by two Moro Islamic Liberation Front commanders in Carmen, North Cotabato.
"We filed protest with the CCCH and we understand na hindi naman ito ito-tolerate ng MILF na magkaroon ng hampered flow of traffic, sayang yung peace sa area na 'yan kung hindi natin maagapan," Colonel Allan Arrojado, brigade commanding officer, said Friday.
The CCCH has representatives from the government and MILF panels and is charged with checking on the implementation of the ceasefire between the two sides.
On Thursday, residents complained that followers of MILF commanders Karim and Tarzan were blocking the road, which led to a firefight between the MILF and armed civilian volunteers.
A barangay councilor, Randy Camigue, died in the clash.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front led by MNLF commander Teo Minanimbong also clashed with the MILF on Thursday over alleged harassment.
Troops from the 602nd Brigade were deployed Thursday to contain the firefight.
MILF spokesman Von Al Haq has said the MILF will investigate the incident. He also said, however, that there may be a third party trying to get the MILF and the MNLF to fight.

Photo: Soldiers recover firearms from BIFF in Maguindanao

From GMA News (Feb 22): Photo: Soldiers recover firearms from BIFF in Maguindanao

45th Infantry Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Donald Hongitan (center) and two officers inspect recovered M-14 and 2 M-16 rifles on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, after soldiers engaged Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in a 30-minute firefight in a remote barangay in Maguindanao.

Purchase of S. Korean fighter jets not due to China row — PHL Air Force

From GMA News (Feb 22): Purchase of S. Korean fighter jets not due to China row — PHL Air Force

The deal to purchase 12 units of FA-50 fighters from South Korea is mainly to upgrade the country's air defense capability and not due to the rising tension in the South China Sea, the Philippine Air Force said Saturday.

PAF spokesman Col. Miguel Okol on Saturday told GMA News Online in a text message: "It is for your defense as a whole not only because of a situation. Our defense department and we in the Air Force match up our capability upgrade on shortfalls and needs."

"In this case we are moving towards beefing up our external defense capabilities having prioritized internal security operations over the last 12 years," he added.

For his part, Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said, "Plans to buy jets [had been done] and programmed way before territorial issues cropped up."

Brand new

Galvez said the jet fighters to be bought from South Korea are "brand new units."

"Aside from being lead in fighter trainers, the FA-50 jets can also perform close air support mission, maritime air patrol, combat air patrol and limited air intercept missions with ground control intercept radars which we are acquiring," Okol said, when asked about the capabilities of these jet fighters.

According to an earlier Reuters report, the Philippine government has reached an agreement with Korean Aerospace Industries Ltd. for 12 of the aircraft and would sign a contract before March 15.

"This is a very important project together with the frigate of the Navy because of our objective of building a minimum credible defense," Fernando Manalo, undersecretary of defense for finance, munitions, installations and materiel, told Reuters.

For her part, Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte on Saturday said the country is one step closer to beefing up its air defense capability following Malacañang's approval of the payment mode for them.

Valte said the Palace's approval usually means President Benigno Aquino III's questions about the transaction had been addressed.

"Usually po ‘pag ganyan that means na-iron out na po ‘yung mga kinks or at least the President's questions had been sufficiently answered by the department," Valte said on government-run dzRB radio.

The Philippines had been trying to improve its military capability in the wake of territorial disputes in parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In past months, Philippine forces had figured in tense moments with Chinese vessels in some of the disputed areas.

Manila has sought arbitration and a rules-based approach to settle the row.

Sokor fighter jet deal part of military build-up amid territorial rows — Valte

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 23): Sokor fighter jet deal part of military build-up amid territorial rows — Valte

While the Aquino administration was at first reluctant about acquiring fighter jets from South Korea, Malacañang yesterday said that this notion has now changed.

The Palace said the acquisition of additional jet aircraft for the Philippine Air Force is part of the country’s efforts to improve its military capability amid territorial disputes with China over parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Recent reports showed that Malacañang has already approved of the payment mode for 12 F/A-50 fighter jets after “the kinks have been ironed out.”

Deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said in an interview on state-run dzRB Radyo ng Bayan that the Palace’s approval usually means President Aquino’s questions about the transaction had been addressed.

“Usually po kapag ganyan, that means na-ironed out na po ang mga kinks or at least the President’s questions had been sufficiently answered by the department concerned,” she added.

AFP mum on ransom for Bansil sisters' freedom

From ABS-CBN (Feb 22): AFP mum on ransom for Bansil sisters' freedom

[Video report]

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) did not confirm nor deny if ransom was paid in exchange for the freedom of Filipino-Algerian sisters Nadjoua and Linda Bansil, who were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf 8 months ago.

The Bansil sisters were abducted by Abu Sayyaf bandits on June 21 last year in Sulu, where they were filming a documentary about coffee farmers.

The two were recovered by government troops in Sitio Kantatang, Barangay Buhanginan, Patikul, Sulu on Thursday afternoon following a joint operation by elements of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-6, Marine Battalion Landing Team-2, 2nd Marine Brigade, and Sulu Police Provincial Office with efforts from Sulu Vice Governor Sakur Tan.

In a press briefing in Zamboanga City Friday morning, Western Mindanao Command Chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero did not answer the question on whether the Bansil sisters' abductors were paid for their release.

"If you will go in previous reports nung July last year, may demand na P50 million. That's based on reports we earlier received. But for this specific instance, recovery yung nangyari," he said.

"Kung ano man yung iniisip niyo about ransom, we cannot answer that. But suffice it to say that they were recovered in a safe and secure manner. So we just want to give them time to recover from the trauma," he added.

Task Force Sulu Commander Col. Jojo Cenabre also earlier said there was no exchange of fire between the Abu Sayyaf and government troops during the operation.

He said pressure from the police and military could have been the reason why the abductors left the Bansil sisters in Patikul.

'Very exhausted'

According to Guerrero, both Nadjoua and Linda Bansil have already been given proper medical attention.

The sisters were present during the Friday briefing but their faces were covered.

Guerrero appealed to the media not to interview the two as of this moment due to exhaustion.

"Generally ang statement ng doctor is they are just very exhausted so hinihingi rin namin pagpasensya ninyo dahil hindi sila nasa right condition to be interviewed," he said.

The victims' brother, Mohammed Bansil, was also present during the press briefing and spoke on behalf of Nadjoua and Linda, who he said lost about 40 percent of their body weight.

"Yung plano namin actually ay umuwi muna. Kasi yun, pagod kami. Alam na ng mama ko... Sinabi ko na lang na nasa kamay ko na. Her reply: Okay," Mohammed said.

He also declined to answer questions regarding the ordeal of his sisters, saying that what is more important now is that they are both safe.

"We'll get to that later. Mahirap magtanong. Kahit ako hindi ko pa alam kung paano magtatanong sa kanila eh," he said.

The Bansil sisters' abductors are now being hunted down. But the military said it needs help from the public to stop the spate of kidnappings.

Just last week, a couple was abducted by alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf also in Jolo, Sulu.

The victims were identified as Engineer Bonifacio Salinas, an employee of the Jolo Water District, and his wife, Claire Salinas.

"We cannot say that they (kidnap groups) are growing. Kasi merong mga nababawasan, merong naneu-neutralize, at meron ding nare-recruit from among the unemployed, siguro yung nandun sa locals. Kasi it's earning money kung may ransom na nababayaran. It attracts yung mga bata na gustong sumali sa mga adventure na ganito," Guerrero said.

"We'd like to ask the community for information so we can ferret out these kidnappers. We want to put a stop to this... Kailangan namin ng community support," he added.

4 Chinese ships back at Ayungin Shoal

From ABS-CBN (Feb 22): 4 Chinese ships back at Ayungin Shoal

Four Chinese surveillance ships have returned to Ayungin Shoal after several months of absence.

A security official who asked not be named said two of the Chinese ships have the 306 and 363 markings on their bows, while the two others look like frigates.

“They’ve been spotted near Ayungin since last week,” the security official said.

Another source said the Chinese Navy is again maintaining an active presence in the Spratlys.

“They were gone, but they have returned,” the source said.

Filipinos continue to fish in the area of Ayungin despite the presence of the Chinese ships.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista has vowed to defend Filipino fishermen against any “terror or intimidation” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In an interview with the Associated Press, Bautista said Chinese claims to islands just off the Philippine coast are “of course absolute nonsense.”
“Just take a look at the map,” he said.

“Our fishermen will continue fishing, assert their rights on those areas. They should go on with their lives as fishermen, not bow down to terror or intimidation.

“To the best that we can, we will support them, especially if there is more aggression and unnecessary use of force,” he added.

Bautista said that decision risked angering China in the short term, but that it was the right course of action.

“They are a big country, we are a small country,” he said. “What can we do? Bring it to court, solve it through peaceful means.”

Ayungin Shoal serves as a supply route from mainland Palawan to settlers in Kalayaan town in Pag-Asa Island.

Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon Jr. said: “With its vast resources, who can prevent China from implementing its illegal reclamation projects in the region?”

China claims Ayungin as part of its maritime domain, although it is located very near Palawan and within the territorial waters of the Philippines.

In May last year, Chinese ships took up positions near Ayungin Shoal and only left the area after a series of typhoons struck the country.

Since then, Chinese ships were seen in the area while sailing south or north, apparently on patrol.

China has been trying to occupy the Ayungin despite a detachment of Philippine Marines stationed on the grounded BRP Sierra Madre.

New envoy here Sunday

New Chinese ambassador Zhao Jianhua is set to arrive on Sunday, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

Zhao, former ambassador to Liberia, replaces Ma Keqing whose tour of duty ended last December.

Zhao worked at the Asia desk of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, and his first ambassadorial assignment in Africa was to Liberia.

At an Investiture Ceremony on Dec. 6, 2013, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf admitted Zhao into the Humane Order of African Redemption, with the grade of Knight Great Band.

The Philippines has filed a case against China before the arbitral tribunal of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), challenging excessive claims in the South China Sea.

China has refused to participate in the arbitration, insisting on bilateral discussions on the territorial dispute and calling on the Philippines to meet it halfway to jointly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.