Monday, April 28, 2014

Report: Suspected NPA member killed in Agusan del Norte

From GMA News (Apr 28): Report: Suspected NPA member killed in Agusan del Norte

A suspected communist New People's Army rebel was killed in an encounter with government troops in Agusan del Norte province, a radio report said Monday.

The encounter occurred while the Army's 29th Infantry Battalion was holding clearing operations in Mount Bantawon, Bombo Radyo reported.

The report said the area is at the boundary of Barangay Anticala in Butuan City and Barangay San Antonio in Remedios T. Romualdez in Agusan del Norte.

Capt. Samuel Maglinao, the battalion's civil military officer, was quoted in the report as saying the unit was verifying a tip from civilians about the presence of rebels in the area.

He said they then chanced on the rebels, and a firefight lasting 10 to 15 minutes ensued.

One of the NPAs was killed and left behind by the others.

No one from the government side was hurt, the report said.

Another kidnap bid foiled

From the Daily Express (Apr 29): Another kidnap bid foiled

Lahad Datu: An attempt by a group of kidnappers from southern Philippines to enter the country through Semporna waters last week failed due to tight security measures being deployed in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone).
Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek said security peronnel in ESSZone, involving 10 districts from Kudat to Tawau had been directed to be vigilant to prevent the recurrence of kidnappings.    "We are serious about this intrusion attempt and we cannot afford to have another incident after the still unresolved kidnapping case at Singamata resort last April 2 occurring," he said Monday.    However, he said ESSCom could not confirm or deny if the group was the same militant armed kidnapping group of Abu Sayyaf and was still collecting leads on it.    He said ESSCom would do its level best with its existing strength and assets to prevent any attempt of intrusion.    Mohammad said the Philippines authority was closely monitoring the situation and location of the two kidnapped victims, a Chinese tourist and the resort's Filipina receptionist, who were now being held by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu.     The Muslim militants have brought the victims to their jungle stronghold in the southern Philippines after kidnapping the women from the dive resort.    Mohammad said based on intelligence reports the 28-year-old Shanghai tourist had been in regular communication with her family over ransom deal.    The group was reported to have demanded a RM36.4 million in ransom for the release of the Chinese woman.    "We have sent our officers to Jolo Island and working closely with the Philippines intelligence for the safe release of the victim," he said.

IN GUIHULNGAN Brgy defense system formed

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 28): IN GUIHULNGAN Brgy defense system formed

A Barangay Defense System was organized in Brgy. Tacpao, Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental, with its officials and tanods as members.

1Lt. Von Ryan Gomez, 11 th Infantry Battalion Civil Military Operations officer, said 47 barangay officials, tanods and farmers, who are residents of Tacpao, that used to be a stronghold of the New People's Army, took their oath as BDS members on April 25, after a three-day seminar, also attended by Mayor Jorge Joan Reyes and Lt. Col. Paulito Idul, 11IB commander, and the police.

Gomez said the BDS members pledged to work hand in hand with authorities to attain peace, security and development in the barangay.

He said the organization of BDS is not only for peace and order concerns, but also for environmental protection, crime prevention, and development.

The BDS seminar, the first to be held in Guihulngan, empowers barangay officials and residents to facilitate the implementation of government programs and services in their community.

Lt. Col. Paulito Idul, 11IB commander, said in a statement, that he is optimistic that peace and security concerns in Brgy. Tacpao will be resolved with the support and cooperation being extended by the local government units and other stakeholders.

Security forces in Zamboanga on high alert

From the Philippine Star (Apr 28): Security forces in Zamboanga on high alert

ZAMBOANGA CITY - Security forces in this city, which is hosting the forward station of the US Joint Special Operation Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), were placed on high alert following the arrival of US President Barrack Obama in the country on Monday for a two-day official visit, officials said Monday.

Chief Superintendent Juanito Vaño, Police Regional Office 9 (PRO) director, said he placed police forces in the city and the other parts of the region on orders from the Philippine National Police National Headquarters.

Vaño said the tight security measures were implemented to prevent armed groups from staging attacks to sabotage and grab attention during Obama's visit.

Obama arrived in the country on Monday afternoon and was scheduled to return to the US on Tuesday afternoon.

Senior Superintendent Angelito Casimiro, city police director, said that they have not yet intercerted reports of threats.

Military units in the region have also been placed on high alert, and troops have been closely monitoring areas infested by members of the Abu Sayyaf Group, including Basilan and Sulu.

Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of Armed Forces' Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said operations against the bandit group, which is holding a number of kidnap victims, were intensified with the visit of the US president.

City Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, meanwhile, said that the city should also receive benefits as a result of the agreements forged between the two countries of the Philippines and the United States.

“Our message to President Barrack Obama is that Zamboanga City has been a home to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines ever since it started in 2002. In the global threat of terrorism, the police and the military and the JSOTF-P played very vital role and we will have to continuously have a lot of gains in catching terroristic activities that are brought in this area or that are started in our area,” Salazar said.

5 Philippine Bases Where the U.S. Military Will Look to Gain a Footing

From the Wall Street Journal (Apr 28): 5 Philippine Bases Where the U.S. Military Will Look to Gain a Footing

The Philippines used to be a central hub for U.S. military operations in the Asia-Pacific, and the Southeast Asian country looks set to fulfill that role once more – albeit on a smaller scale – as the two countries reboot their long-standing alliance.

U.S. President Barack Obama and his Philippine counterpart Benigno Aquino III are expected to sign a new security pact – the Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation – in Manila on Monday. The deal paves the way for U.S. forces to return to bases which, in some cases, they ran for decades before the Philippines ordered all American troops to leave the country in the early 1990s. Though the Americans were never unpopular here, Philippine society at the time simply saw no justification for their continued presence, given the lack of any credible external threat.

Now, the Philippines is engaged in territorial wrangles with China and is asking the Americans it booted out to come back. The Obama administration, engaged in a strategic “pivot” to Asia that had been running low on momentum, is happy to accept Manila’s invitation.

The two sides remain tight-lipped about where the U.S. plans to deploy its forces and in what numbers. But since the deal’s purpose is to boost the Philippines’ deterrent against China, locations affording easy access to the strategically sensitive South China Sea are obvious candidates. Here are five places the U.S. military is likely to aim for.

1.       Subic Bay and Cubi Point, Western Luzon

Subic Bay used to be the U.S. Navy’s biggest stronghold outside the United States: More than 4,000 American officers and their dependents were stationed at what was the Seventh Fleet’s main forward maintenance station, while some 4 million U.S. sailors passed through Subic every year during the base’s Vietnam War-era heyday. Neighboring Cubi Point performed a corresponding role for the hundreds of naval aircraft in the region.

Today, Subic Bay serves as a commercial shipyard and container port, while Cubi Point sits empty.

In 2013 Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin announced that the government was planning to set up Philippine Naval and Air Force bases at Subic given its proximity to disputed territories in the South China Sea, notably Scarborough Shoal, the scene of a tense standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels in 2012. Local leaders and business people in Subic Bay confirm that both Philippine and American defense officials have been there recently to examine the options.

Under the terms of the new defense pact due to be signed this week, the U.S. is only allowed “rotational” access to existing Philippine facilities and cannot run its own bases. That means the Philippines will have to set up new facilities at Subic before the Americans can come in. Even so, people living around Subic Bay are already expecting U.S. warships and aircraft to become an increasingly common sight within the next couple of years.

2.       Clark, Central Luzon

The U.S. Air Force’s version of Subic Bay was Clark Air Base, once the epicenter of American air operations in the Western Pacific. The massive U.S. presence there came to an end with the eruption of nearby Mount Pinatubo in 1991, a time when the Philippine government had already signaled that U.S. forces would probably have to leave.

Subsequently reborn as the Clark Freeport Zone, Clark now serves as a commercial airport, and is tipped to be the site of the Philippines’ next real-estate boom. Because a Philippine Air Force base is also situated there, however, U.S. Air Force rotations could soon be passing through Clark in increasing numbers. Their tasks could be assisting with South China Sea surveillance as well as providing air combat capability – something the Philippines currently lacks.

3.       Oyster Bay, Palawan

This perfect natural harbor – a bay within a bay on the west coast of Palawan – already plays host to a small Philippine Naval base, an hour north of the provincial capital Puerto Princesa. At present, however, the sleepy outpost is ill-equipped to play a frontline role in the Philippines’ territorial struggles with China, despite its proximity to the disputed Spratly Islands.

Last year, Manila earmarked 313 million pesos, roughly $7 million, to refit the base and enable it to berth up to four naval frigates. That program has yet to start, according to sources familiar with the situation who preferred not to be named, but the defense pact with the U.S. is likely to kick start the process.

U.S. Navy engineers just helped build an elementary school building in the village where the base is situated – suggesting that they are preparing the ground for an imminent deployment.

4.       Brooke’s Point, Palawan

The Philippine Marine Corps already operate a facility here at the southern end of Palawan, and it is widely rumored that the U.S. Marines have been studying the possibility of setting up a regional command post alongside their Philippine counterparts. Since the protection or capture of small islands is the Marines’ stock-in-trade, it stands to reason that the Corps would seek a foothold near the disputed Spratly Islands in case the Philippines needs help asserting its offshore claims against an increasingly assertive China.

5.       Batanes

Situated in the Luzon Strait at the northern end of the Philippine archipelago, the Batanes Islands offer an excellent vantage point from which to monitor a key maritime chokepoint for any vessels departing China for the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Navy used to operate a station here. Though long since abandoned, the remote Batanes outpost would have obvious advantages if Manila and Washington are keen to improve their monitoring of Chinese activities – and in particular to listen for any submarines passing through the Strait.

Philippine, U.S. armed forces exchange expertise, best practices

From DVIDS (Apr 28): Philippine, U.S. armed forces exchange expertise, best practices

Philippine, U.S. armed forces exchange expertise, best practices

U.S. Marine Col. Curtis Lee provides opening remarks April 25 for the Civil Military Operations symposium in Legazpi City, Albay Province, Philippines. During the seminar, subject matter experts with the AFP and U.S. will exchange best practices and ideas for each of the CMO areas to generate discussion that will focus on developing improved methods of operation. The symposium is held in conjunction with Exercise Balikatan, an annual bilateral training exercise and humanitarian assistance engagement between members of the Philippine and U.S. armed forces that focuses on improving interoperability and strengthening the partnership of the two allied countries. Lee is the commander of the Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force, U.S. armed forces,. (Photo by U.S. Cpl. Kevin Crist)
LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Subject matter experts from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. armed forces held the opening ceremony for a Civil Military Operations symposium April 25 in Legazpi City, Albay Province, Philippines.

The week-long symposium will highlight the importance of civil affairs and public communication, and how these capabilities contribute to stability, security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

“We are building community relations with everyone,” said U.S. Army Capt. Danielle Williams, a civil affairs planner with Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force, U.S. armed forces. “This is building a long-lasting relationship that will remain beyond our time here.”

This symposium is held in conjunction with humanitarian civic projects taking place around the province as a part of Exercise Balikatan, an annual bilateral training exercise and humanitarian assistance engagement between members of the Philippine and U.S. armed forces.

The HCA projects include renovations of Tamaoyan Elementary School; construction of a comfort room in Barangay Pawa; construction of classrooms and a health clinic in Malobago; and construction of classrooms at Mercedes Elementary School.

“I am excited to be learning about CMO and meeting others from the different Philippine armed services, as well as from the U.S.” said Philippine Army Pfc. Cindy Quicho, a licensed criminologist serving with 504th Civil Defense Center, AFP. “I’m looking forward to learning (how to) apply these lessons in the Philippines.”

During the seminar, subject matter experts with the AFP and U.S. will exchange best practices and ideas for each of the CMO areas to generate discussion that will focus on developing improved methods of operation for all members present, which will improve interoperability between the two allied nations and HCA effectiveness.

“This is very important for us to win the hearts of our people and accomplish future missions,” said Bicol police superintendent Jesus C. Martirez, community relations chief. “It’s a good start for everyone to join together, not just in the Philippines, but some day, the whole world.”

First responder course provides lifesaving skills

From DVIDS (Apr 28): First responder course provides lifesaving skills

First responder course provides lifesaving skills

U.S. Army Maj. Kate Flocke assists students practicing emergency medical care during a first responder training course in Legazpi City, Albay Province, Philippines, April 24. The course is part of Exercise Balikatan, an annual bilateral training exercise and humanitarian assistance engagement between members of the Philippine and U.S. armed forces that focuses on improving interoperability and partnership. Flocke is one of the first responder course instructors. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Taylor Whitaker/ Released)

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – The police of Albay Province trained alongside U.S. forces April 21-25 during a five-day seminar on first aid rescue techniques.

The course is part of Exercise Balikatan, an annual bilateral training exercise and humanitarian assistance engagement between members of the Philippine and U.S. armed forces that focuses on improving interoperability and partnership. Training during the course included incident response, burn treatments and a variety of buddy carries.

“Working with the local police is a privilege,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Price, a civil affairs medic. “It’s good to know the training we are conducting could help save lives someday.”

On the final day of the course, a practical application exam involving a simulated accident was held to test the knowledge the students gained throughout the course. The exam required students to be able to evaluate simulated victims, bandage their wounds and evacuate to a safe location for further treatment.

The course gave the students and communities they serve additional confidence that they will be able to continue to respond to any situation in the future, according to Bicol police superintendent Jesus C. Maritez, a community relations chief.

“Now it is time for the students to go home and protect their provinces,” said Martirez. “What they have learned here gives the community confidence in their police.”

Following the successful completion of the practical application, a graduation ceremony was held for the class, with each student receiving a certificate of completion for the course.

“This training shows the determination of the students for a better community,” said Michelle H. Morales, police noncommissioned officer at the Albay Police Provincial Office. “They are proud of the service that the training will allow them to provide their provinces.”

Moro group fears US military intervention

From Rappler (Apr 28): Moro group fears US military intervention

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters warns the US against meddling

As the Philippines and the US signed a military deal allowing more access of American troops to the Philippines, which coincided with the visit of US President Barack Obama to Manila, an armed Moro group expressed fears over foreign military intervention in Mindanao.

Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), said they are ready to defend their land against "foreign forces."

"We would not join the calls for the total pullout of US soldiers in the country because talking is nothing. But what is sure is that our freedom fighters will shoot any foreign forces that would try to take away our land," Mama said.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the bigger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which recently signed a peace agreement with the Aquino government. BIFF's forces are based mainly in Maguindanao and other parts of central Mindanao.

Mama said they're not worried at all that the US government would put them in the terror list. On the US' terror list is the Abu Sayyaf Group, which is behind many kidnappings in Mindanao, mostly in the provinces of Sulu and Basilan.

The rebel spokesman said the BIFF is hoping that the US government would not intervene in the internal affairs of Mindanao and provoke hostilities. "The BIFF will not meddle with their political agenda in Manila as long as they would not meddle with Mindanao and the Bangsamoro homeland," Mama said.

Mama also warned the MILF to be careful in dealing with the US government considering the Americans' "long history of atrocities" in Moro areas.

How far will the US go to defend the Philippines?

From Rappler (Apr 28): How far will the US go to defend the Philippines?
It is signed. And while Manila and Washington insist that it does not pave the way for the return of US bases here, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) means more American troops, more facilities that Americans will construct inside military bases, and more US ships, aircraft and other military assets.

The unpleasant history of US presence in the Philippines and the lack of transparency in the negotiations cloud the agreement that was signed Monday, April 28, by Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg.

But a security official interviewed by Rappler was blunt. "Rightly or wrongly, we need them for the balance of power. The reality is we cannot hack it alone," he said.

The Philippines sought US military assistance in the wake of escalating tension with China over the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).

The alternative is to resolve the maritime disputes through bilateral talks with China, a track used by the former Arroyo administration but which President Benigno Aquino III deems "unworkable."

There have been concerns about the "irresoluteness" of the US, too, over questions on how far it is willing to go to help the Philippines against China, the same security official said. But for the Philippines, the security official said the US assistance to the Philippine Navy in the March 29 standoff with the Chinese Coast Guard in the disputed Ayungin Shoal helped soothe doubts.

Still, a categorical position from the US is desired. “We want realistic expectations. Hanggang saan kayo (How far will you go)?,” he said. The official, a retired military officer who still works in government, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Obama: Our goal is not to counter China

In Japan, Obama gave a categorical statement declaring that the disputed islands in the East China Sea are covered by their defense agreements. (READ: Obama in Japan says Senkaku Islands covered by security treaty)

In the Philippines, he evaded the question. Obama highlighted the peaceful resolution of the maritime conflict in the region and reiterated US support for the arbitration case the Philippines filed against China. READ: No categorical commitment from US on China dispute)

"We welcome China's peaceful rise. We have a constructive relationship with China.... Our goal is not to counter China. Our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected and that includes the area of maritime disputes," said Obama in a joint press conference with President Aquino in Malacañang.

EDCA is not focused on maritime security alliance alone, he explained. "The goal for this agreement is to build Philippine capacity to engage in training, to engage in coordination, not simply to deal with issues of maritime security but also to enhance our capability so that if there's a natural disaster that takes place, we are able to respond more quickly. If there are additonal threats that may arise, we are able to work in a more cooperative fashion," Obama said.

The military deal means the US will construct facilities, upgrade infrastructure, as well as store and preposition defense and disaster preparedness equipment, supplies, and materiel. (READ: PH primer on military pact with US)

Maritime cooperation

For a country that lacks assets to patrol its long coastline, maritime cooperation is the name of the game.

“It’s all about maritime cooperation where you look at nations that have the same goals, interests and values. One that promotes freedom, democracy, peace and stability," Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano told Rappler when asked about the agreement with the US.

The Philippines also has a string of defense cooperation agreements with neighboring ASEAN countries and allies such as Japan and Canada. But in the absence of a treaty, these countries cannot have the same set up as the US. (The Philippines argues that the EDCA is based on the 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty.)

Maritime cooperation among the different navies of ASEAN works is crucial in keeping the security situation under control.

When fishing vessels are missing and when planes crash into the sea, navies can call each other to seek permission to enter each other's waters or to seek assistance. "Each one of us is just a phone all away," said Alano.

The navy chiefs hold regular meetings and the Philippines hosted the 7th meeting in September 2013.

"What we are trying to do is to increase the bond that we have. It's very important that communications is established. It's better if you are communication with somebody you know. It's not just establishing communications link but also making personal links within the different organizations particularly the chiefs of navy. These types of arrangements have always been fruitful," said Alano.

Defense budgets

China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has its own rules, continously pushing its claims through unilateral actions such as the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). With a defense budget of US$188.5 billion in 2013, based on the estimates of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), it has the military muscle to challenge countries – including Japan and South Korea.

In comparison, the Philippines had a defense budget of US$3.5 billion in 2013. The country harbors no illusions it can match China's military might but it is acquiring a squadron of fighter jets from South Korea, 2 new frigates, and radar systems to attain minimum credible defense posture in the hope that it can deter China from occupying its territories the way it took Mischief Reef in the 1990s.

The Philippines looks at its maritime cooperation with US as a deterrence to China.

Panatag Shoal located off the coast of Zambales province is now practically occupied by the Chinese Coast Guard following a tense standoff in 2012 when the Philippines attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen poaching its waters. Philippine fishing vessels that attempted to enter the area were fired with water cannons.

China is now eyeing the Ayungin Shoal located off the coast of Palawan. It is demanding the removal of BRP Sierra Madre from the Shoal. Members of the Philippine Marines occupying the grounded ship have the task to keep China in check. The troops before them stayed there for 5 months.

A former navy officer is also concerned that China will go after Sabina Shoal next. It is nearer the oil-rich Recto Reef which sailor-turned-politician Roilo Golez said is the real target.

The next rotation and resupply mission won’t be easy. It will be the test of how far China will go in driving away the Philippines from the shoal, according to the official interviewed by Rappler.

"China will have to stand their ground. They will have to be more aggressive," he said.

China doesn’t want war. But there is always fear of “miscalculation," he added.

Doubts on the US rebalancing remain especially when large chunks of Obama's press conferences were devoted to issues that lured him back to Europe or the Middle East. (READ: Obama: One eye on Asia, another on global turbulence)

But for the Philippines, the change will be clear. EDCA isn't just a 10-year commitment; it could also bring about problems that the negotiations failed to anticipate. For one, some sectors are already saying the agreement has to be ratified by the Senate.

Give us back historic bells of Balangiga, Obama asked

From Rappler (Apr 29): Give us back historic bells of Balangiga, Obama asked

Up to 2,500 online petitioners want US President Barack Obama to return the bells of Balangiga in Eastern Samar, which the US took as spoils of war

ICONIC BELLS MISSING. A view of a historic Balangiga Church as a US Navy Sea Hawk helicopter flies over in the Haiyan-devastated town of Balangiga, Eastern Samar on Nov 18, 2013. File photo by Francis Malasig/EPA

ICONIC BELLS MISSING. A view of a historic Balangiga Church as a US Navy Sea Hawk helicopter flies over in the Haiyan-devastated town of Balangiga, Eastern Samar on Nov 18, 2013. File photo

Visiting Manila for the first time, US President Barack Obama vowed to help the Philippines “recover and rebuild” after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), but dodged a decades-long problem raised by typhoon survivors themselves.

Obama said nothing on Monday, April 28, about the bells of Balangiga Church in Eastern Samar, which Americans took as spoils of war.

Signaling a historic siege, the bells led to the US military's so-called worst single defeat in the Philippines. In what is known as the Balangiga Massacre, locals outsmarted and killed 48 out of 74 US troops in 1901.

Now, Filipinos want the iconic bells back in Balangiga, especially after Yolanda. Recently, up to 2,500 Filipinos signed an online petition requesting the return of the bells from Obama.

Gary Ramirez, the main petitioner, wrote on the advocacy platform “As we rebuild the heart of our town, the Balangiga Church, there is one thing missing that will help make this spirit whole. The bells of Balangiga Church.”

'Voice of unity, spirit'

“These bells, lost in a dark and stormy time of our history before the United States and the Philippines embraced their brotherhood, had always been the voice of our unity and spirit. Their ringing had always rallied us as a people, calling us to work together as one,” Ramirez said in his petition posted in late 2013, the latest petition tally of which is dated April 14.

He added, “At no other time in our history have we needed the bells of Balangiga more than now.”

Of the 6,300 killed by Yolanda, at least 14 came from Balangiga. In its update as of April 3, the government identified most of them as senior citizens, with a 95-year-old man as the oldest.

The typhoon affected up to 12,822 Balangiga residents.

Not only Yolanda survivors have clamored for the bells.

Using Rappler's hashtag #DearObama, Twitter user Arnold Cesar Romero @notty_romero wrote, “#DearObama, please give us back the Balangiga bells.”

Ramos request denied

In 1994, then Philippine president Fidel V Ramos himself requested Bill Clinton, then the US president, to return the Balangiga bells “in the spirit of fair play,” according to a paper presented by James Helzer and published on Newsbreak in 2002.

Ramos' request, however, “fell on deaf ears” even as Clinton again received this plea in 1996, Helzer said.

Two of the 3 Balangiga bells remain on display at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the Philippine Information Agency said. The third bell, the smallest, is in Korea.

In a letter to then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2012, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead opposed returning the Balangiga bells. He said, as quoted by Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay, that he is against “any efforts to deconstruct our war memorials that honor our fallen soldiers.”

Binay, on the other hand, said the US should consider “that the bells are a memorial as well to the many innocent civilians” murdered in Balangiga, when the Americans struck back.

No categorical commitment from US on China dispute

From Rappler (Apr 29): No categorical commitment from US on China dispute

The United States supports the Philippines' bid for a diplomatic resolution of its territorial row with China but cannot commit military help if war erupts in the disputed area

Unlike his pronouncement on a similar issue involving Japan, US President Barack Obama did not categorically state that his country would defend the Philippines if push comes to shove in its territorial dispute with China.

[Video: No categorical commitment from US on China dispute

In a joint press conference with President Benigno Aquino III after their expanded bilateral meeting on Monday, April 28, Obama emphasized that the US supports the Philippines’ position that diplomacy, as provided under international law, and not “coercion and intimidation” is the way to settle such disputes. (WATCH: LIVE: Obama visits Manila, Day 1)

"We don’t even take a specific position on the disputes between nations. But, as a matter of international law and international norms, we don’t think that coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes," he said.

Obama said that for this reason, the US is "very supportive of President Benigno’s approach to go before the tribunal for the law of the sea, and to seek international arbitration that can resolve this in a diplomatic fashion."

Asked how the US assured the Philippines of its genuine commitment to countering an increasingly aggressive China, Obama began his response by welcoming the "peaceful rise" of China, with which the US has a "constructive relationship."

"There is enormous trade; enormous business that is done between the United States and China; a whole range of issues on the international stage in which cooperation between the United States and China are balanced," he said.

'US not out to counter China'

The US president added: "Our goal is not to counter China; our goal is not to contain China. Our goal is to make sure that international rules and norms are respected, and that includes in the area of maritime disputes," Obama said.

He also explained that the US does not have any claims in the area.

"We are an Asia Pacific nation and our primary interest is the peaceful resolution of conflict; freedom of navigation that allows for continued progress and prosperity."

Obama expressed support for the Philippines’ decision to raise its territorial dispute with China before an international arbitral tribunal, and the country’s bid for a binding Declaration on of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

The US president said he has been consistent in his statement during his trip to Asia that it wants to resolve issues in a "peaceful, responsible" manner, as reducing tensions will allow "countries to focus on what is more important to people day-to-day and that is prosperity, growth, jobs."

"You know, those are the things that we as leaders should be focused on, need to be focused on. And if we have security arrangements that avoid conflict and dispute, then we’re able to place our attention on where we should be focusing," he said.

"My hope is that at some point we can work cooperatively with China as well."

He said during the course of his trip, the message of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines has been the same.

"They want to resolve issues peacefully," Obama said.

Obama's statements on the China issue in Japan were observed to be stronger than the pronouncements he made in Manila.

'Disputes on a few rocks'

During the press conference, Obama said the US might also have some territorial disputes “but we don’t go around sending ships and threatening folks.” He was responding to whether China’s bid for expansion threatened regional peace and stability and whether the Mutual Defense Treaty can be invoked in this regard.

Instead, the US leader said, the US resolves issues “peacefully and diplomatically” like the Philippines.

“If China, I think, listens to its neighbors and recognizes that there’s another approach to resolve these disputes, what China will find is that they got ready and willing partners throughout the Asia-Pacific region that want to work with them on trade, commerce….It’s inevitable that China will be a dominant power in this region because of its sheer size," Obama said.

Aquino appeared to take a similar, softer attitude on China, echoing Obama's pronouncements.

Responding to the same question, Aquino said that from the start, the Philippines’ message to China is that the Philippines is “focused on the greater prosperity for all our respective peoples.”

“Prosperity does not happen in a vacuum. There must be stability. They [China] have responded that the disputes in the West Philippine Sea are not the end-all and be-all of our relationship. We have good cooperation with them on so many fronts. Perhaps, one can even argue that this [dispute] is the only sore point in our relationship,” he said.

Aquino said that the Philippines has tried to build on aspects of its relationship with China “where there is no conflict, and in this particular instance, trying to find a way and means by which we can both achieve our respective goals, which I believe should not be mutually exclusive or rather which should be, inclusive.”

“At the end of the day, we do want to strive for the prosperity of our respective peoples. That I think has to be the primordial concern rather than disputes on a few rocks that are not possible to have inhabited,” he said.

EDCA not a threat
As expected, defense and security were at the forefront of the issues discussed by the two leaders.         

Obama’s statement came on the same day that US and Philippine officials signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), amid continued tensions between the Philippines and China over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).       
The EDCA is a military deal that will give American troops wider access to military bases here.         
Aquino said that China should not view the EDCA as a threat, since the Philippines does not have a strong military presence to begin with. Aquino defended the deal saying, “No country should begrudge us our right to attend to our concerns and needs."      
Aquino said that the signing of the EDCA raises the security cooperation of the two countries "to a higher level of engagement, reaffirms our countries’ commitment to mutual defense and security, and promotes regional peace and stability."       
For his part, Obama called the EDCA "a terrific opportunity" for the Philippines and the US to ensure "our navies, our air force are coordinated; to make sure that there is information-sharing; to allow us to respond to new threats and to work with other countries – ASEAN countries, Australia, Japan."        
Coming to Asia, the United States was expected to argue that its rebalancing policy – of withdrawing US military, economic and human resources from Middle East wars and deploying them to emerging Asia – remains on track.      
In Japan, Obama pledged support for Tokyo, which is also in the midst of a territorial dispute with China. He gave assurances to their ally that US support will continue, adding the islands claimed by both countries are covered by a defense treaty that would oblige Washington to act if they were attacked.       
Agence France-Press earlier reported that at the start of his Asian tour in Japan, Obama has made clear that US defense treaties with Japan covered disputed islands long administered by Tokyo in the East China Sea, which are known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyus in China.       
The Philippines, however, has its own territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea – notably over Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), an outpost in the remote Spratly Islands. (WATCH: The evolving role of PH in Asia)         
Economic partnership     
Aside from defense and security, Obama also said he and Aquino talked about increased cooperation for helping victims of typhoon Yolanda, and the country's economic growth.     
In his statement, Aquino thanked the US and the American people for its “solidarity” with the Philippines in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

“Today, I reiterate formally: the Filipino people will never forget such kindness and compassion. On behalf of my countrymen, I thank the United States of America once more for being a true friend to our people,” the Philippine leader said.

Aquino also thanked the US for its support for his administration's economic growth programs:
  • $145 million from the US Agency for International Development for the Partnership for Growth framework, which enhances the policy environment for economic growth
  • $434 million grant from 2011-2016 for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which supports the implementation of projects on road infrastructure, poverty reduction, and good governance
  • An agreement on the terms and concessions for the US to support the Philippines’ request for the extension of special treatment for rice imports until 2017
Aquino mentioned the Philippines' reinstatement to Category 1 status by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which he said would create economic benefits for both countries.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was discussed as well and "the Philippines is working to ascertain how participation in TPP can be realized," Aquino said.
'Comprehensive meeting'
Aquino called his meeting with Obama and the US delegation "comprehensive, historic, and significant – embodying our shared values and aspirations."
"It accorded President Obama and myself the opportunity to build on the relations between our countries, and discuss our strategic vision for the future of the Philippines-United States relationship – a relationship that is modern, mature, and forward-looking, and one that allows us to surpass challenges, towards the benefit of our peoples, the entire region, and the world," he said.

Obama too had warm words for Aquino when he signed the official Malacañang guestbook.

His note, affixed with his signature, read: “I thank President Aquino and the people of the Philippines [for] welcoming me. May America’s oldest alliance in Asia always be renewed by our friendship and mutual respect.”
Aquino and Obama were joined by their respective officials at the expanded bilateral meeting.
On the Philippine side were Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, Presidential Management Staff chief Julia Abad, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma and National Economic and Development Authority chief Arsenio Balisacan.
On the US side were US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, National Security Advisor Ambassador Susan Rice, US Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Robert Nabors, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting Benjamin Rhodes.
The other US officials were Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel, Senior Director for East Asian Affairs National Security Council Evan Medeiros, Special Assistant to the President for International Economics Cristopher Smart, and Director for Southeast Asia National Security Council Colin Willett.
Obama arrived in Manila early Monday afternoon, and will return to the US on Tuesday, after a week-long Asian tour that included Japan, South, Korea, and Malaysia.

17 towns in Region 12 to get multimillion-peso worth of socioeconomic projects under expanded Kalahi-CIDSS.

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 28): 17 towns in Region 12 to get multimillion-peso worth of socioeconomic projects under expanded Kalahi-CIDSS.
Seventeen municipalities in Region 12 or the Soccsksargen Region are set to receive multimillion-peso worth of socioeconomic projects under the national government’s expanded Kalahi-CIDSS program.

Emerita Dizon, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region 12’s coordinator for Kalahi-CIDSS, said Monday the preparatory activities are now underway for the implementation in the region of the scaled-up initiative, which is dubbed Kalahi-CIDSS National Community Driven-Development Program (NCDDP).

Kalahi-CIDSS stands for Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services, a World Bank-assisted poverty alleviation project implemented since 2003 by the DSWD.

President Benigno S. Aquino III recently approved the expansion of the community-driven development program as a national strategy for poverty-reduction.

In Region 12, Dizon said the initiative is set to expand before the second half of the year in 17 towns of three of the region’s four provinces.

These are the municipalities of Glan, Kiamba, Maasim, and Maitum in Sarangani province; Alamada, Aleosan, Banisilan, Carmen and Pikit in North Cotabato; and Bagumbayan, Isulan, Kalamansig, Lambayong, Lebak, Lutayan, Palimbang and Senator Ninoy Aquino in Sultan Kudarat.

The region, which is also known as the Soccsksargen Region, comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

A report released by DSWD-12 said a total of 25 municipalities have benefited from the program in the region in the last 10 years.

Under its additional financing component that started in 2010, a total of 13 towns were enlisted as beneficiaries and five of them presently have ongoing projects.

Dizon said they are currently assisting the 17 local government units (LGUs) in the preparation of the required documents for the availment of the program.

“Each LGU will be given a minimum of P12 million to a maximum of P20 million grants to fund various community projects,” she said in a statement.

The allocation of the grants will depend on an area or LGU’s population, poverty incidence and income classification, she said.

“It means that more and more pressing needs in various communities will be addressed with a much bigger grant now from the program,” Dizon added.

Kalahi-CIDSS-NCDDP mainly aims to empower communities to achieve improved access to services and to participate in more inclusive local planning, budgeting and implementation of community-based socioeconomic projects.

It aims to cover 5.4 million households in 847 municipalities of 58 provinces in the entire country.

The national government has set aside some P43.9 billion for the implementation of Kalahi-CIDSS-NCDDP, which was also set as a support initiative to the government’s post-disaster response and development activities in areas affected by typhoon "Yolanda."

The program is supported by loan grants from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Tanauan mayor appeals for extension of Korean contingent's stay for rehab works

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 28): Tanauan mayor appeals for extension of Korean contingent's stay for rehab works

The local government unit of Tanauan has urged the national government to extend the stay of Araw Forces of South Korea in the country for one more year to continue with their rehab works in typhoon-ravaged areas.

Mayor Pelagio Tecson said that a lot of facilities that are currently covered by the rehabilitation work of the Korean military contingent are yet to be repaired thus there is a need for them to stay longer.

Earlier, Col. Chul Won Lee, commanding officer of the Araw Forces, said that a request from the local chief executive (LCE) is necessary should they need to stay longer to help in the repair of damaged government facilities, especially school buildings.

The Korean military contingent kicked off its repair works in selected Leyte towns in January and will end in December this year as per an original agreement with the national government.

Last week, a formal turnover of the newly repaired seven school buildings of the Malaguicay Elementary School repaired by the Araw Forces was held before the presence of Major General John Bonafos, commanding officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command.

The Korean contingent also presented before Bonafos and Tecson a newly-constructed playground for the pupils of the elementary school.

Aside from gracing the turnover ceremony, Bonafos also visited the base camp of the Araw Force and extended his condolences over the tragic death of more than 200 South Korean people, mostly children, in a ferry tragedy.

A simple candlelight ceremony was held, adding solemnity to the activity.

Maguindanao govt, MILF settle "clan wars" ahead of entry of Bangsamoro govt

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 28): Maguindanao govt, MILF settle "clan wars" ahead of entry of Bangsamoro govt

Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders on Sunday "settled peacefully" a long standing family feud involving big Muslim clans in four Maguindanao towns and a town in nearby Lanao del Sur.

In a Muslim thanksgiving event, leaders of feuding Iranon clans and local executives signed a “rido ceasefire” to stave off any escalation of family feuds in the towns of Parang, Barira, Matanog, all in Maguinanao and Balabagan in Lanao del Sur.

"Rido," refers to Muslim family feud that goes for decades.

Mangudadatu said the settling of family misunderstanding aims to "normalize" far flung communities where long standing family feud brought about by land dispute or political rivalry ahead of the coming of a new political entity.

Under the GPH-MILF peace deal, a new political entity called Bangsamoro government will be established once a new law is enacted and approved in a plebiscite by the people in the proposed core territory.

More than 2,000 Moro Iranon tribes, representatives from the militiary's 6th Infantry Division, the Malaysian International Monitoring Team that observes the GPH-MILF peace agreement, attended the gathering at the Parang gymnasium in Parang, Maguindanao.

Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman for political affairs of the MILF, in his message, has appealed to the warring families "to end clan wars once and for all" so development will come in their communities once the agreement is fully implemented.

Malaysian Gen. Abdul Samad Bin Yaakob, head of mission of IMT, called on the public to support the Mindanao peace process to hasten the restoration of normalcy and economic growth in conflict-stricken areas in the south.

Mangudadatu lauded the joint efforts of the provincial government, the MILF, and the Army’s 603rd Brigade, and a local socio-economic development entity, the Iranon Development Council, for having initiated the forging of the "rido ceasefire."

Describing it as a "domestic normalization process," the move was clearly in support of the CAB and the October 15, 2012 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro.

Mangudadatu and Jaafar signed the peace covenant as witnesses in the presence of warring families who now called themselves "brothers, sisters" and Brig, Gen. Romeo Gan, assistant division commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, and Col. Noli Orense, chief of the Army 603rd Brigade.

“This peaceful settlement among feuding Moro clans will surely improve the local investment climate and bolster the interest of Malaysian investors to put up viable agricultural ventures in partnership with Iranon landowners,” Mangudadatu later told reporters.

Malaysian businessmen have shown interest to invest in northern part of Maguindanao. They planned to put investment in rubber, oil palm and coffee in Matanog, Barira, Buldon, Parang complex where the former MILF main camp used to be.

Parang Mayor Ibrahim Ibay said Maguindanao’s hinterland Iranon town accounts for most number of clan wars in the province.

“Ahead of the coming of new government in Muslim Minanao, we want our communities to be peaceful so development and investment would come that would also provide local employment," Ibay said.

Mangudadaty said more "rido-settlement activities" are already in the bag in other towns of Maguindanao.

More NPA 'supporters' in Negros Oriental take oath to support constitutional gov't

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 28): More NPA 'supporters' in Negros Oriental take oath to support constitutional gov't

More self-proclaimed supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros Oriental have taken their oath before authorities as a sign of their support to the duly constituted government.

The latest batch includes 37 members of the Komiteng Pang-Organisa or KP (organizing committee) from Barangay Apoloy in Siaton town, about an hour’s drive from this capital city, said Lt. Alex Robillos, Civil-Military Operations Officer of the 79th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in a news release Monday.

According to Lt. Robillos, the 79th IB, in close collaboration with the Siaton local government unit, held a culmination program this past weekend for its Bayanihan Team Activities at Barangay Apoloy during which the oath taking was held in the presence of Judith Lagos, municipal councilor of Siaton.

The KP’s leader, Renante Senda, during their testimony before the 405 witnesses who attended the activity, called for their fellow residents “to break free from the grip of influence the NPA had on them and support the government on its quest for development and lasting peace”.

Brig. Gen. Francisco M. Patrimonio, commander of the 302nd Infantry Brigade, the mother unit of the Philippine Army units in Negros Oriental, in his message during the activity stressed on the vitality of the people to be committed in helping to “win the peace” in order to achieve development, said Lt. Robillos.

The 37 KP members can now be added to the many more ahead of them who have been successfully reached by the educational and advocacy efforts of the unit who supports the government.

An outreach program was also conducted during the activity that benefited more or less 405 individuals through different services such as medical consultation, circumcision, free haircut, massage, animal vaccination and feeding program.

Distribution of slippers to the children from the Galway Clinic – an Irish NGO, also took place during the activity.

These activities were made possible through the collaborative efforts of the 79th Infantry (Masaligan) Battalion, the 302nd (Achiever) Brigade, 703rd CDC, LGU- Siaton, the local barangay officials of Barangay Apoloy and the volunteer nurses from the Negros Oriental High School Batch ’94.

New PHL, US defense cooperation to help modernize AFP -- Goldberg

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 28): New PHL, US defense cooperation to help modernize AFP -- Goldberg

As the Filipino and American governments formally signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) Monday, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said that the forging of this latest initiative will greatly aid in the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

"It (EDCA) will also support the shared goal of promoting the long term modernization of the AFP and will help the AFP maintain and develop additional security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities," Goldberg stated.

The Philippines and US governments signed the EDCA Monday, around 10 a.m. at the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Commissioned Officers Club in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

And while the US is prepared to help the Philippines, the ambassador stressed that the US government will not use the EDCA to reopen American bases in the country.

"It (EDCA) will not reopen (any) US bases (in the Philippines) it's an agreement to enhance our defense relationship," Goldberg pointed out.

He added that the EDCA will also take Philippines-US bilateral security relationships to a higher level.

"We look forward to working closely with you and your government in the weeks, months and years ahead to continue to strengthen our alliance, build our individual and collective defense capacities and ensure that our nations are ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century in a new and equal partnership," the American official said.

PHL, US defense agreement highlights US 'rebalance' to Asia -- Goldberg

From the Philippine New Agency (Apr 28): PHL, US defense agreement highlights US 'rebalance' to Asia -- Goldberg

The signing Monday of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines highlights the US government's "rebalance" policy to Asia.

This was stressed by US Ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg, during Monday's EDCA signing ceremonies at the Armed Forces' Commissioned Officers' Club in Camp Aguinaldo, Monday.

"After eight rounds of negotiations in as many months, it's very fitting that we're gathered here today to sign this landmark agreement just hours before our two presidents meet to mark a new stage in our relations and celebrate the American administration's 'rebalance' to Asia," Goldbergsaid.

"As most of the people in this room probably know, the US-Philippines alliance is the oldest of our five treaty alliances in Asia and the US-Philippines mutual defense treaty signed in 1951 continues to serve us well, having contributed to the security and stability of the region for the last six decades," he added.

Goldberg said that a good example of this is the annual "Balikatan" exercises, which will kick-off on May 5.

"The agreement we signed today would be an important part of the existing Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement but it will also serve to update our security alliance to meet the increasingly complex challenges of the 21st century, whether it is terrorism, transnational crimes or natural disasters like Typhoon 'Haiyan' (Yolanda)," he added.

Goldberg said that while the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and US military forces already work closely together, at all levels and across all services, through joint exercises, training, and subject matter expert exchanges, to increase their capabilities and interoperability, the EDCA serves as recognition by both sides that there is even more we can do together to support the alliance and to promote peace and security in the region.

"The Agreement is based on a number of key principles and shared values: The mutuality of benefits for both nations as we develop our individual and collective defense capacities; respect for Philippine sovereignty over all locations covered under the Agreement; and the understanding the United States does not intend to establish a permanent military presence in the Philippines," he added.

Goldberg said the EDCA will increase training opportunities for US and Philippine forces, which will contribute to increased interoperability and a greater ability to jointly respond to humanitarian operations.

New military accord elevates PHL-US defense alliance, says DFA Chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 28): New military accord elevates PHL-US defense alliance, says DFA Chief

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Monday called the new defense agreement between the Philippines and the United States a “milestone” pact that elevates the long-time allies’ defense partnership.

A product of nearly two years of planning and negotiations, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA was signed by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg a few hours before the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama, who makes his last stop in Manila today following a week-long Asian tour that includes Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Philippines.

“The EDCA elevates to a higher plane of engagement our already robust defense alliance, a cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” Del Rosario said in a statement.

“It provides new momentum for our partnership and opens up fresh avenues of bilateral cooperation,” he added.

EDCA expands the coverage of the existing Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951 by Manila and Washington and the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement.

It allows an increased but non-permanent presence of American troops to the country and access to designated Philippine military facilities.

The agreement is also designed to strengthen the ill-equipped Philippine military for external defense, maritime security and maritime domain awareness amid heightened concerns over China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea.

Philippine officials assured that all activities under the EDCA are covered by the Philippine Constitution.

The accord also grants the U.S. military the right to pre-position its equipment, vessels and aircraft as it ruled out permanent basing and entry of nuclear weapons.

It likewise highlights enhanced cooperation on disaster response as demonstrated by the US’ prompt assistance to the Philippines when it was battered by super typhoon "Yolanda" in November of last year.

“With the rapidly evolving regional architecture and domestic realities, our dynamic and forward-looking partnership attaches great importance in enhancing our individual and collective self-defense capabilities, strengthening maritime security and maritime domain awareness, and improving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capacities,” Del Rosario said.

He stressed that the “valuable components of a responsible and responsive security engagement” will benefit both countries and “contribute to regional and international security and stability.”

“With the EDCA, the Philippines and the United States as sovereign allies have written a new chapter for our modern and mature partnership, firmly grounded on deeply-held democratic values, common interests and shared aspirations,” Del Rosario said.

No nuclear, weapons of mass destruction allowed in enhanced defense cooperation -- Defense Department

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 28): No nuclear, weapons of mass destruction allowed in enhanced defense cooperation -- Defense Department

Contrary to claims made by militant groups, the newly-signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the United States and the Philippines does not give authority to the American forces to bring nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

This was disclosed in a EDCA fact sheet released by the Department of National Defense (DND) Monday.

"Prohibition of entry to the Philippines of nuclear weapons, and reference to respective obligations of both Parties under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention," it added.

The fact sheet also stressed that both parties must express strong commitment to protect the environment, human health and safety; preference for Philippine suppliers of goods, products and service in US military procurement; and, regular consultation on the implementation of the agreement.

Aside from these, other EDCA main features include:

-Clear provision that the US would “not establish a permanent military presence or base in the Philippines;

-US access to and use of designated areas in Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) owned and controlled facilities (“Agreed Locations”) will be at the invitation of the Philippine Government;

-Prior consent of the Philippines, through the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) and Security Engagement Board (SEB), with regard to US access and use of Agreed Locations which may be listed in an annex and further described in implementing arrangements;

-Philippines retention of primary responsibility for security of the Agreed Locations;

-Access of the AFP base commander to the entire area of the Agreed Locations;

-Philippine ownership of buildings and infrastructure once constructed by US military;

-Sharing and joint use of facilities in the Agreed Locations, including those built by the US military;

-Value of prepositioned materiél in the enhancement of AFP defense capabilities and possible transfer or purchase of materiél determined to be excess;

A fact sheet on the EDCA also answered concerned about the return of US bases in the country

"The agreement is very clear on this matter and specifies in the Preamble the Parties’ understanding for the US not to establish a permanent military presence or base in the territory of the Philippines. The EDCA does not authorize the establishment of US bases. It allows the US military access to agreed location," it said.

The EDCA also mandates that before constructions and other activities can be undertaken, prior consent of the Philippines will have to be secured through the MDB and Security Engagement Board (SEB) that were established under the MDT and the VFA.

The AFP base commander will have access to the entire area of the facilities shared with the US military. The Philippines will also own any building and similar infrastructure that will be built by the US military.

Activities to be undertaken under EDCA will likewise have to be approved by the Philippines through the MDB and SEB.