Thursday, May 8, 2014

MILF: Basilan Information Committee conducts series of advocacies on CAB and Bangsamoro

From the MILF Website (May 9): Basilan Information Committee conducts series of advocacies on CAB and Bangsamoro

The month of April was the busiest month for Basilan Committee on Information as it conducted series of advocacy programs on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the envisioned Bangsamoro Region.
On April 10, 2014, an advocacy on CAB, the BBL and the Bangsamoro Ministerial Form of Government was conducted at Parangbasak National High School open stage, Lamitan city participated in by hundreds of MILF members from clustered villages. The resource speakers were headed by this writer, Director of Basilan Committee on Information.

On April 11, 2014, an advocacy program was also conducted at Lamitan City ABC Hall with 98 participants from 10 clustered villages/barangays.

Another advocacy was undertaken on April 13, 2014 at Barangay Balagtasan, also in Lamitan city with 84 participants.

Ninety Six (96) participants comprising MILF officials and members also attended a similar program on April 17 at Barangay Kaddayan Akbar, Basilan from 9 clustered barangays.

On April 19, 2014, peace advocates headed by this writer held another advocacy activity at Barangay Sinulatan, Tuburan, Basilan, where 81 MILF officials and members participated in. They came from 10 clustered villages.

On April 21, 2014, 84 participants attended an advocacy program on CAB at Barangay Langgung Ajul.
One Hundred Twenty Four (124) MILF officials and members and Two Hundred (200) SWC members attended another advocacy program on April 24 at Guinanta, Al Barka, Basilan from 16 clustered barangays.

While the entire nation was celebrating the Labor Day on May 1, 2014, the Federation of Madaris Teachers in Lamitan City sponsored advocacy on CAB and the 4 annexes. Madaris teachers and students were in full attendance to listen to the resource speakers who comprehensively presented and discussed the Cab, the four annexes, BBL and the envisioned Bangsamoro Region with a ministerial form of government. All throughout the conduct of activities, Basilan Peace Advocates and the Basilan Committee on Information Secretariat supported this writer not to mention local officials, the military and other peace loving sectors in the province.

POST-EDCA | SBMA allows Philippine Air Force, Navy to set up partial bases inside Subic Freeport

From InterAksyon (May 9): POST-EDCA | SBMA allows Philippine Air Force, Navy to set up partial bases inside Subic Freeport

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT ZONE -- In relation to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States and the Philippines, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority board last month approved a resolution allowing the Philippine Air Force and the Philippine Navy to set up partial military bases inside the Freeport, SBMA Chairman and Administrator Roberto V. Garcia said early this week.

The PAF, Garcia on Monday said, is planning to rebuild the former FedEx area to house the 24 fighter jets the Philippines is buying from South Korea.

The Philippine Navy, on the other hand, is eyeing an area encompassing the Alava, Riviera and Juliet wharves, all inside the Freeport, where the two Hamilton-class frigates acquired from the US -- the BRP Alcaraz (PF-16) and BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) -- will be home ported.

“We approved that (resolution) in principle, of course, because the primary consideration is national security,” Garcia explained.

“As you know, Subic is considered very strategic because (it is) only 120 miles from the flashpoint which is the Bajo de Masinloc. So it is very important that Subic is ready to respond,” Garcia added, referring to the disputed territory, also known as Scarborough Shoal, where China and the Philippines have had run-ins.

“The mandate of SBMA is that we are a Freeport. However, that does not preclude us from hosting these Philippine bases in the interest of national security,” the SBMA chief stressed.

“However, I pleaded that we must be able to allow our locators to continue their business (here). There are many examples in which military establishments are located beside commercial establishments like in Singapore, Frankfurt in Germany and in Okinawa, Japan. The important thing is that we are in a state of readiness,” Garcia said.

Garcia, however, was quick to add that he “remains optimistic that the agreement will be a temporary one that will serve the purpose of benefiting most Filipinos.”

At the same time, a US Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine is arriving in Subic Bay Friday for a routine port call “to replenish supplies as well as give the crew an opportunity for rest and recreation.”

The visit by the USS Chicago, the US Embassy said, highlights the strong historic, community and military connections between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines.

It is also the first visit to Subic Bay of an American submarine since the US and Philippines signed the Enhanced Defense and Cooperation Agreement, which allows the increased presence of US military forces and their use of Philippine military facilities.

The new defense pact was signed hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Manila on April 28 on the last leg of a four-country Asian tour.
The submarine is also arriving just as tensions heightened once more in the West Philippine Sea after maritime police intercepted and took in a Chinese fishing vessel with a crew of 11 loaded with more than 500 endangered turtles.

China has protested the incident, calling it a "provocation," a charge denied by Philippine authorities.

China blames Vietnam for ship collisions in disputed waters

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 9): China blames Vietnam for ship collisions in disputed waters

Graphic on contested claims in the South China Sea. Beijing on Thursday swatted blame back to Hanoi after it accused Chinese ships of ramming Vietnamese vessels in disputed waters, the latest escalation in territorial disputes involving the Asian giant.

Beijing on Thursday swatted blame back to Hanoi after it accused Chinese ships of ramming Vietnamese vessels in disputed waters, the latest escalation in territorial disputes involving the Asian giant.

Foreign ministry official Yi Xianliang said Vietnamese ships had rammed Chinese vessels 171 times since May 3—in sharp contrast to Vietnam’s claim that its own patrol vessels were repeatedly rammed by Chinese ships protecting a deep-water drilling rig near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

The islands are controlled by China but claimed by Vietnam.

“The Chinese side made no provocations at all. It is the Vietnamese side that is making provocations,” Yi, deputy director-general of the foreign ministry’s Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs, said at a press briefing.

By contrast Hanoi claimed Wednesday that Chinese boats had collided with Vietnamese ships in at least three incidents since May 3 and used water cannon to attack Vietnamese law enforcement ships, injuring six.

Vietnam broadcast a video of the confrontations, while Yi declined to provide specific evidence of China’s claims.

He said Vietnam had dispatched 35 vessels to the scene since Saturday, but that he did not know how many Chinese vessels were present, adding it was difficult to tally because many were coming and going. No Chinese military ships were present, he said.

Yi declined to specifically address accusations of water cannon use. He said instead that Chinese vessels were at the drilling rig to provide security, but had exercised restraint. Beijing says the rig is in Chinese territory.

“China had to strengthen its security forces at the scene and take action to stop Vietnam’s disruptive activities,” he said.

“In the face of Vietnamese provocation, China has maintained a high degree of restraint.”

“China’s operations are completely reasonable, legal and justified,” Yi said, adding that they were the country’s “sovereign right, having nothing to do with Vietnam.”

China claims sovereignty over almost the whole of the South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines and is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.

China and Vietnam, which fought a brief border war in 1979, have been locked in a long dispute over their contested waters. They routinely exchange diplomatic barbs over oil exploration, fishing rights and ownership of the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

‘Unilateral and provocative’

Tensions between the communist neighbors have risen sharply since Beijing unilaterally announced last week that it would move the drilling rig into disputed waters.

Vietnam deployed patrol vessels after the China Maritime Safety Administration issued a navigational warning on its website saying it would drill close to the Paracel Islands.

Japan and the United States said on Thursday they were deeply concerned by the latest flare-up, with Tokyo urging Beijing to rein in its “provocative” actions.

The European Union, which on Wednesday held a summit with Japan, said it was worried that “unilateral actions could affect the security environment in the region.”

Beijing and Tokyo are facing off in their own territorial row over islands in the East China Sea, another volatile flashpoint in regional relations.

“We are deeply worried as regional tensions have risen with China unilaterally starting rigging activities in disputed waters,” Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

“We recognize this incident is part of China’s unilateral and provocative maritime activities,” he said.

US Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel, in Hanoi, told reporters: “The US is greatly concerned about any dangerous conduct at sea and we oppose any act of intimidation by vessels including and particularly in disputed areas.”

CPP/Ang Bayan: Resist the EDCA!

Excerpt from the English edition of the propaganda publication Ang Bayan posted to the CPP Website (May 7): Resist the EDCA!
CPP Ang Bayan
Philippines (CPP) and all the revolutionary forces of the Filipino people are one in condemning the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by officials of the US and Philippine governments on April 28.
Aquino concealed the details of the negotiations and the terms of the agreement and fast-tracked its signing so he could present it as a gift to his visiting imperialist master Barack Obama.
The EDCA is a brazen violation of Philippine national sovereignty. Through the EDCA, the US will be enjoying unhampered rights to station an unlimited number of troops, military contractors, warships, jetfighters, weapons and other military equipment in so-called Agreed Locations without paying rent. The US military will also be allowed to use any seaport, airport and road in the Philippines that it may need.
The EDCA is a US basing agreement, contrary to the US’ insistent claims that it has no plans of establishing military bases. In fact, the US military will be allowed to build whatever facilities it may need and engage in all types of operations and activities within the locations allotted to them in areas inside AFP camps.
The EDCA formalizes the basing since 2003 of the 700-strong US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) within its exclusive headquarters inside Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City. These headquarters being used by American soldiers are supposedly under AFP jurisdiction, but Philippine military officials are never given access to their area.
The EDCA further strengthens US military presence in the country. US claims that its soldiers are present only on a rotational basis in the Philippines are contradicted by the fact that US troops are permanently present on Philippine land or territorial waters with the constant ingress and egress of some 3,000-4,000 personnel and vehicles “on rotation.”
To court the Filipino people’s support, Aquino claims that the EDCA will strengthen Philippine capability to defend its territories in the South China Sea. In fact, US “assistance” to the AFP has been limited to enhancing the latter’s capability to accommodate the US’ large sea vessels and other military equipment.
Aquino has been boasting that the US will be on the Philippines’ side should a shooting war erupt with China, but Obama made no such promise in the speeches he delivered during his visit. Claims that “the US would defend the Philippines” are pure hogwash. Even when the Philippines was still a fullblown US colony, the US did not “defend” the country when Japanese forces invaded it in 1941.
In reality, the US has been maintaining its presence in the South China Sea, not to help the Philippines defend its territorial waters, but to secure the transit of US surplus products, project US power and curtail China’s rise as a military power.
The US and the Philippines have different national interests. The US military will act in accordance with US national interest, and not to defend Philippine national interest.
In signing the agreement, the Aquino regime has surrendered Philippine national interest by further binding Philippine foreign policy to US foreign policy. The EDCA further reinforces the international status of the Philippines as a mere pawn of the US military. By signing the EDCA, the Aquino regime further reduces the Philippines’ ability to independently craft diplomatic and economic relations that would be more in line with its national interest.
Claims by Aquino’s economic officials and local big business that military ties with the US are crucial to Philippine economic growth are also a big lie. On the contrary, more than a century of serving US military interests has perpetuated economic backwardness and foreign debt and capital dependence and subjected the country to foreign economic plunder.
It is the US government and military that benefit from the EDCA. It serves the US government’s strategic “Asia pivot” plan declared in 2011 which involves the deployment of up to 60% of US overseas naval and other military forces to the Asia-Pacific region. The Obama government’s plan to increase US economic and military presence in the region is crucial in its effort to overcome the prolonged economic recession which began in 2008.
The Filipino people will derive no benefit from the EDCA. It is a further mockery of Philippine national independence and perpetuates the status of the Philippines as a US semicolony.
The Filipino people must stand up and raise high the banner of national freedom. They must vigorously oppose the EDCA and demand its abrogation. They must also demand the abrogation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement and the pullout of all US troops from the Philippines.
The Aquino regime’s signing of the EDCA has stirred the patriotism of broad sectors of Philippine society and opens a new chapter in the historic struggle against US military domination in the Philippines.
The struggle against the EDCA must be carried out in line with the overall struggle to achieve national and social liberation. Only by overthrowing the US puppets that perpetuate US neocolonial rule can the Philippines effectively assert national independence, defend its land and territorial waters, advance an independent foreign policy and achieve economic modernization, genuine democracy and social justice.

'EDCA benefits PH more than US'

From Rappler (May 8): 'EDCA benefits PH more than US'

The country's environmental interests will also be protected and promoted under EDCA – a feature unique to the agreement

PHILIPPINE PANEL CHAIRMAN: Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino. Rappler file photo

PHILIPPINE PANEL CHAIRMAN: Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino. Rappler

In the eyes of the Philippine panel that negotiated the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States (US), Manila stands to gain more than Washington from the deal.

"We think that this agreement is mutually beneficial, okay. And it may benefit the US to a certain extent, but certainly it benefits the Philippines and, in our view, even more," Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya told reporters at a briefing in Malacañang on Thursday, May 8.

The EDCA gives US troops wider access to Philippine bases and allows joint activities between the two countries' militaries – the prepositioning of US equipment within Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) locations, the construction of related facilities to accommodate such prepositioning, as well as other enhanced defense cooperation activities.

It will require future negotiations – such as which army bases the US military may use – but Malaya said, "first and foremost to us is the protections and promotion of our Philippine national interest."

"We would want to emphasize though that under EDCA it is very clear that, for any prepositioning and construction activity to happen, the consent of the Philippine government is necessary," said National Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, who was also at the press briefing.

For locations of bases for example, Malaya said it would be the Philippines that would choose which bases could be occupied by American troops.

"All of these agreed locations would be within AFP bases and we are the host and they are the guests. So we would be the one to designate the places where they would be [allowed]," he said.

Additionally, Batino emphasized that the priority of the AFP is its modernization program, and that EDCA would address the country's lack of defense equipment. (READ: PH-US security relations: Deepening the alliance)

He said that any facilities built by the US with American money in locations designated by the Philippines with the consent of Washington, will be the Philippines' property. There is no exclusivity in the use of any infrastructure either.

"Under EDCA, there is an expressed provision stating that from the time the new facilities introduced by the US – of course, with the consent of the AFP using US money – from Day One, this would already be Philippine government property," Batino said. He added that bases development and support would be very helpful in the AFP modernization program.

The US is also expected to enhance Philippine capabilities and equipment "to address our concerns in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief."

Under the agreement, Batino said the US would not be allowed to dismantle or bring home any facilities when the agreement ends.

Environmental protection

The EDCA was signed by both countries just hours before US President Barack Obama's two-day state visit to the Philippines, his first. As expected, the defense agreement became the focus of the trip, with discussions centering on security and defense.

Aside from equipment and choosing locations, the country's environmental interests will also be protected and promoted under EDCA – a feature unique to the agreement.

"Nowhere in our former treaties and agreements with the US were there expressed provisions, robust provisions for environmental protection," Batino said.

A "clean-as-you-go" policy will be respected, said Malaya. Batino added the US is obliged not to intentionally release any hazardous materials, and to "expeditiously take action in order to contain and address environmental contamination" in the event of a spill.

"With respect to environmental compliance standards, it is expressly provided under the EDCA that it is the highest of the three that would prevail, namely, the US standards, the Philippine standards, or international standards. We think that this is a robust provision for environmental protection," Batino said.

The provision on environmental protection does not limit measures to the AFP bases and covers all joint activities implemented under EDCA.

AFP calls all Filipinos to join the Navy

From the Philippine Information Agency (May 7): AFP calls all Filipinos to join the Navy

The Philippine Navy is now accepting and processing male and female applicants for Naval Officer Candidate Course (NOCC) and Basic Seaman Course (BSC) starting on May 9-11, 2014 at the Southern Philippine College (SPC), Licoan, Cagayan de Oro City.

Qualified applicants must be natural born Filipino citizen with good moral character, unmarried and without child and at least 5 feet in height.

Applicants must not have more than two false teeth, physically and mentally fit and has no pending case in any court.

They must comply with all documentary requirements.

For Naval Officer Candidate Course; must be a graduate of four year baccalaureate degree, preferably technical courses such as BSEE, BSME, BSIT, BSECE, BSCS, BSA, BSME, OBSMT, BSCE, BSNA and Bachelor of Law with ages from 21 to 28 years old on the start of training.  They must pass the Armed Forces of the Philippines Aptitude Test Battery (AFPATB), Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Special Written Examination.

For Basic Seaman Course; they must also have at least two years course in college and/or those who completed training Naval Course II, he or she must possess a special skill needed in the military service and certified by TESDA preferably in the field of electronics and communication aviation, aircraft maintenance, electricians, mariners, welders, plumbers, mechanics for gas, diesel turbine and heavy equipment. Interested applicants must pass the AFPATB, Intelligence Quotient (IQ) with ages from 18 to 23 years old on the start of training.

The procedure of acceptance for Naval Officer Candidate Course and Basic Seaman Course applicants shall depend upon their qualification and evaluation by the Philippine Navy Mobile Recruitment Team.

Interested applicants are advised to bring along with them their original copy of Transcript of Records, original copy of their NSO Birth Certificate and original copy of their TESDA certificate.

Furthermore, qualified applicants are advised to proceed now at SPC, Licoan, Cagayan de Oro City to undergo the stages of processing for applicants.

A Naval Officer Candidate while on training will receive Pay and Allowances each month. Once commissioned into the regular force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with a rank of Ensign or 2nd Lieutenant, they will receive a monthly salary of around P27, 425.00 with insurance and healthcare benefits, billeting and housing privileges, job security, leadership and other skills trainings, opportunity for career advancement based on performance, opportunities for studies both within the country and abroad, and will enjoy the opportunity and privilege of serving in the Navy for the country. Likewise, the Basic Seaman will also receive the basic pay of around P11, 265.00 a month.

DVIDS: Bigaa Health Center receives medical supply turnover from U.S. forces

From DVIDS (May 7): Bigaa Health Center receives medical supply turnover from U.S. forces

Bigaa Health Center receives medical supply turnover from U.S. forces

Vittorio Roces, left, talks with U.S. Marine Majs. Jason Johnson and Grace Janosek about the medical supply donations being made at the Bigaa Health Center May 5 in Bigaa, Albay province, Philippines. The donations were a part of the humanitarian civil assistance programs being completed during Exercise Balikatan, an annual bilateral training exercise between the Philippine and U.S. forces to strengthen the relationship between the two allied nations. Roces is the acting city mayor of Legazpi, Johnson is deputy commander for the Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force, U.S. armed forces, and Janosek is a civil affairs team leader with civil affairs detachment, G3, III Marine Expeditionary Force. (Photo by U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Thorn/Released)
LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Leaders of the local community, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and U.S. armed forces held a medical supply turnover ceremony May 5 in Bigaa, Albay province, Philippines

The medical supplies brought a needed boost to the ability of the health center to support and provide the necessary aid to members of the Bigaa community, according to U.S. Marine Maj. Grace Janosek.

“The health center was donated and opened in September 2013,” said Janosek, a civil affairs team leader with civil affairs detachment, G3, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “Medical supplies were still needed, and that’s why we’re here today.”

The donation will provide the health center with the ability to treat a large portion of health concerns as the supplies consisted of medical necessities and equipment from wheelchairs and examination tables to gauze and basic wraps.

“We were able to bring in a large amount of supplies that will cover most of the treatments the community might require,” said U.S. Marine Cpl. Jordan Yearsly, a civil affairs specialist with civil affairs detachment, G3, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “We brought in 500 hygiene packs, one scale, three bassinets, 60 needle containers and two wheel chairs. It’s great seeing all of this being put to a good use.”

In addition to the leaders of Bigaa, the AFP, and U.S. armed forces, members of the local community came to the ceremony to express their gratitude and witness the turnover at the center.

“We are all very thankful for the equipment being given to us,” said Perla Afaytono, a health worker in Bigaa. “We’re fortunate that our barangay was chosen to receive medical assistance. The people here are all very happy to be able to receive this care.”

The ceremony concluded with U.S. Marine Maj. Jason Johnson, deputy commander for the Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force, U.S. armed forces, handing a hygiene pack to Vittorio Roces, the acting mayor of Legazpi City, as a symbolic passing of the donated supplies.

“It’s an honor to receive this assistance in Legazpi City,” said Roces. “On behalf of the Honorable Governor Joey Salceda, we all thank the U.S. armed forces for their humanitarian assistance and continued work in the Philippines.”

Chinese poachers' arrest by PH was 'premeditated' to stir up tensions - Beijing

From InterAksyon (May 8): Chinese poachers' arrest by PH was 'premeditated' to stir up tensions - Beijing

The arrest of 11 Chinese poachers off Palawan province on Wednesday was a “premeditated” act that was meant to stir tensions in the South China Sea, Beijing’s embassy in the Philippines asserted Thursday.

“This provocative action” also “severely violates China’s sovereignty and maritime rights,” said a statement by Embassy spokesman Zhang Hua, who also reiterated his government’s “solemn representations” to Manila authorities to immediately release the men, caught with some 500 endangered turtles in a site called Half Moon Shoal 100 kms from Palawan’s mainland.

The embassy statement followed a report by China's state media quoting the skipper of the Chinese fishing boat claiming Thursday that his vessel was shot at by Philippine police as 11 fishermen aboard another were seized.

"They rushed toward us in a boat and fired at us," He Junting, captain of the Qiongqionghai 03168, said of Tuesday's events, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

PNP denies firing

Philippine National Police official Noel Vargas denied the accusation, telling reporters: "I don't know where they got their information.

"As far as the PNP (Philippine National Police) side is concerned, we did not fire any shots."

The allegation and denial came after Philippine police arrested the 11 fishermen in the South China Sea and impounded their ship as part of what Manila calls efforts to protect its resources and enforce its laws.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the shores of its neighbours, raising tensions in the strategically vital area.

Separately, Vietnam on Wednesday said that Chinese ships protecting a deep-water drilling rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea had used water cannon to attack Vietnamese patrol vessels and repeatedly rammed them, injuring six people.

Tensions between the Communist neighbors have risen sharply since Beijing unilaterally announced last week it would move the deep-water drilling rig into disputed waters -- a move the United States has described as "provocative".

Xinhua identified the vessel seized by the Philippine police as the Qiongqionghai 09063.

Captain He said his boat was nearby and he took evasive action after seeing the armed Philippine vessel.

The Chinese embassy in Manila on Thursday demanded the immediate release of the boat and its crew, while Philippine authorities brushed it off.

Philippine police said the arrests were made near Hasa-hasa (Half Moon) Shoal, 106 kilometers (66 miles) west of the major Philippine island of Palawan, in waters which Manila has exclusive rights to exploit under international law.

The Philippines in March filed a formal plea to the United Nations challenging Beijing's territorial claim, in defiance of Chinese warnings that it would seriously damage their already frayed relations.

Beijing has rejected UN arbitration and urged Manila to settle the dispute through bilateral talks instead.

Half Moon Shoal is a bare outcrop on the eastern edge of the Spratlys, a South China Sea chain that sits near key sea lanes and atop what are believed could be vast oil and gas deposits.

In Tuesday's operation, Filipino police said five local fishermen on a smaller boat were also detained, suspected of helping the 11 others to illegally catch hundreds of turtles protected by Philippine environmental laws.

Beijing affirms sovereignty claim 

The Embassy statement also reiterated Beijing’s sweeping claim, as manifested in its controversial nine-dash-line claim, over most of the South China Sea, including parts claimed by Manila – which calls it West Philippine Sea – and, among others, fellow ASEAN member Vietnam. The statement sent by Zhang to media offices on Thursday stressed: “China has indisputable sovereignty over Nansha islands and their adjacent waters, including the Banyue Reef.”

The Chinese side “strongly urges the Philippine side to release the boat and its crew immediately, and guarantee the crew’s safety and their property,” added Zhang.

Beijing likewise warned “the Philippine side not to take provocative actions, so as to avoid further damage to bilateral relations,” adding it will “keep following closely the development of this provocative act.”

Later on Thursday, the Philippine Maritime Police, backed by National Polilce chief Gen. Alan Purisima, said no shots were fired during the apprehension of the poachers, contrary to Beijing's claim. They virtually debunked also Beijing's claim the arrest was "premeditated" and meant to provoke China, stressing that the apprehension came after a five-day operation against a flurry of illegal fishing activities in south Palawan.

No shots fired, no premeditation or provocation in Chinese poachers' arrest - PH maritime police

From InterAksyon (May 8): No shots fired, no premeditation or provocation in Chinese poachers' arrest - PH maritime police

PNP chief Alan Purisima is seen with the Maritime Group's Chief Supt. Noel Vargas (L) and a photo of the Philippine turtles seized from Chinese poachers. Purisima said they were in Philippine territory and the law must take its course. KRISKEN JONES, INTERAKSYON.COM

Contrary to Beijing’s claims, no shots were fired by Philippine authorities who apprehended 11 Chinese poachers caught off Palawan on May 6, and the maritime police strictly followed standard protocols for apprehension.

The arrest, moreover, was not meant to provoke tension with China because it followed a five-day operation against illegal fishing after residents tipped off authorities about the flurry of activities by foreign vessels in southern Palawan.

Maritime authorities made this clear on Thursday, as officials prepared to file charges against the 11 crew members of the Chinese fishing vessel caught on Hasa-hasa (Half-Moon Shoal) just 100 kms from Palawan’s mainland. Beijing had demanded their immediate release and the return of their vessel.

In a statement Thursday, the Chinese embassy in Manila also claimed the arrest was “premeditated,” done by Manila precisely to stir up tensions in the South China Sea.

"Pag foreigner ang na-apprehend, ini-inform ang DFA at Bureau of Immigration. Saka dinadala rin sa isang goverment medical facility ang mga nahuling foreigners para siguraduhin na ligtas at maayos sila [when a foreigner is apprehended by maritime police, the DFA and Bureau of Immigration are informed about it. They are also brought to a government medical facility to ensure they are physically fine]," explained Chief Supt. Niel Vargas, director of the Maritime group.

Before the apprehension of the 11 Chinese on May 6, Vargas said, the Maritime police had a 5-day operation in south Palawan based on a tip by locals about the spate of  illegal fishing activities in the area. This belied claims by Beijing, aired through its embassy in Manila on Thursday, that the apprehension was premeditated, meant to provoke China.

Last May 6, the maritime police tailed a local vessel and saw its crew in the act of transferring endangered species to a foreign vessel, which turned out to be Chinese.

Authorities apprehended both vessels. The apprehending officers realized later that the rudder of the foreign vessel was broken, so they towed it to Puerto Princesa.

"If there had been no problem with their [foreign] boat, our maritime police might not have caught up with them. As it happened, they were not able to escape,” PNP chief Gen. Alan Purisima said for his part.

Committee on Illegal Entrants takes over

The PNP has not specified the charges to be filed, having referred the matter to the Committee on Illegal Entrants, a multi-agency panel chaired by DFA with members from the Departments of Justice, of Interior and Local Government and the PNP.

Asked about Beijing’s demand for the release of the suspects, PNP chief Purisima said: "Our assertion is that this is our territory - let the process take its course. It is up to the Committee on Illegal Entrants to determine what to do."

Meanwhile, the PNP has not categorically declared that those caught in the foreign vessel are Chinese, pending completion of investigation.

The suspected poachers have just arrived in Taytay town in Palawan for processing.  Their boat is in Puerto Princesa for repairs.

PHL, US soldiers share expertise in 'Balikatan' Exercise 2014 in Albay

From the Philippine News Agency (May 8): PHL, US soldiers share expertise in 'Balikatan' Exercise 2014 in Albay

In more than two weeks of working together in the "Balikatan" Exercise 2014 humanitarian mission in Albay, soldiers of the United States and the Philippines have shared and developed not only friendship but also expertise and ingenuity.

Lance Corporal Cristin Cosby, 24, based in Okinawa, Japan, and the lone lady in the US Marine troops currently stationed in Barangay Malobago here, involved in humanitarian mission projects in Albay, shared her expertise to her Filipino counterpart in construction works here.

The tall and smart Cosby has been working side-by-side with Philippine Army Staff Sergeant Romeo Bolo, 41, of the 565th Engineering Battalion under the command of Captain Lloyd Brian Paler based in Camp Wene Martillana in Camarines Sur, in constructing a school classroom in this remote village of Guinobatan town since last month.

Cosby and Bolo, along with their fellow soldiers from the United States Armed Forces (USAF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), are working together under the scorching heat of the sun to finish the construction of school classrooms two weeks from now.

“This is my first humanitarian engagement in my military career -- working in a humanitarian mission in Philippines where I learned the ingenuity of and so many things from the members of the AFP,” Cosby confessed with a smile while resting for a moment after delivering gravel and sand to her co-workers at the site in charge of mixing them with cement.

Strong, the lady marine can climb to the top of the building being constructed faster than her male counterparts.

She added, “It’s a great experience doing this mission as I learned so many things from our Filipino counterparts. We shared our expertise and I learned a lot from the ingenuity of Philippine Army soldiers in construction works suited for place that is often hit by natural calamities.”

Her counterpart, Bolo, a veteran of military’s engineering works, said he, too, learned a lot from the expertise of the US soldiers working for the RP-US Balikatan 2014 humanitarian mission.

“We do not only share creativity but also exchanged military techniques -- and jokes,” he said.

The USAF poured in at least US$ 250,000 for the mission’s construction projects which include renovation of the 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 the Mercedes Elementary School.

The RP-US Balikatan humanitarian civic assistance projects are being done in the town of Guinobatan and in Legazpi City -- both in Albay, allowing members from the AFP as well as the USAF to contribute positive impact on local communities.

The United States government, through the USAF, has temporarily deployed its soldiers stationed in Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Guam and California, USA, for a month-long humanitarian mission in Albay province.

The Balikatan Exercise is a 30-year-old bilateral exercise between the AFP and the USAF focusing on the Humanitarian Civic Assistance Program and Cooperative Health Engagement in the countryside.

Captured CPP-NPA leader turned over to Cebu court

From the Philippine News Agency (May 8): Captured CPP-NPA leader turned over to Cebu court

Ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPA-NPA), Roy Arboladura Erecre, arrested in Davao City on Wednesday, was immediately committed to a Cebu City court where a string of non-bailable offenses were filed against him.

Erecre also known as Vide Alguna, Toto and Pasyong, together with his girlfriend Judith Jaron Niog, were nabbed at Doña Salud Subdivision in Sasa, this city at around 11:00 a.m. by a combined elements of the military and police on May 7 following a week of surveillance by military and police intelligence operatives. He is the secretary of the Central Visayas Regional Committee of the CPP-NPA and carries a P5.4 million bounty for his arrest.

Niog was immediately released by the arresting team because she has no record of any offenses.

Capt. Alberto Caber, the chief of the Public Information Office, Eastern Mindanao Command, said Erecre was transported to Cebu via Butuan City in the afternoon of May 7 after the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) took mug shots, fingerprinting, initial information and medical check-up were taken. Erecre has pending cases of rebellion, robbery in band and frustrated murder.

“That is part of the procedure because his (standing) warrants of arrest were issued by a court in Cebu. We followed the proper disposition,” Caber said in a phone interview. Erecre has been under surveillance the past week, was arrested by virtue of the arrest warrants for a number of non-bailable criminal offenses in Bohol and Cebu in the 1990s and early 2000. He reportedly led an ambush which killed two army officers in 19990 in Carmen, Bohol.

According to Caber, Erecre was cooperative during the initial investigation, although he was surprised during the arrest because he was already cornered by the military and police operatives.

Caber said a money amounting to P352,000, assorted documents and receipts, cellular phone and flash drive were taken from the possession of Erecre.

Caber said Erecre may have a mission in Davao region although, military informants claimed he has been seen in a hotel and beach hopping in Davao.

“He may have a mission here…the NPAs are active here. (Maybe) supporting the NPA in other provinces,” Caber said, adding that Erecre is a candidate to replace spouses Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, who were arrested last March. Benito and Wilma are the chair and finance officer of the CPP-NPA, respectively. Erecre is the third high ranking CPP-NPA leader arrested by government troops after the Tiamzons.

11 Chinese fishermen named by Western Command; 5 Filipino fishermen brought to court for inquest

From the Philippine News Agency (May 8): 11 Chinese fishermen named by Western Command; 5 Filipino fishermen brought to court for inquest

The Western Command (Wescom) in this city has named the 11 Chinese fishermen intercepted by the elements of the PNP Maritime Special Boat Unit (SBU) Thursday following their transfer and medical examination to its military hospital.

The Sino boat captain of F/V Qiongqionghai 09063 earlier identified as Chen Hi Quan was with 10 crewmen named Shi Xian Xiong, Shi Lian Doung, He Zhuang, He Chun, Huang Ji Xuan, He Sheng Bao, He Yuan Cheng, Lu Chuan Fang, Chen Ze Hao and Li Xiang Hui.

The five Filipino fishermen, who were not immediately named as of press time, were no longer brought to the Wescom for physical examination, said Lt. Col. Emmanuel Canilla of the Civil Relations Group (CRG).

“The Filipino fishermen were brought from the PNP Maritime SBU directly to court for inquest,” Canilla said.

The boat captain of the Filipino fishermen was identified Thursday morning as Banto Amlain, a Muslim resident of Balabac town, believed to be selling 70 heads of live green sea turtles (pawikan) to the arrested Chinese fishermen in Hasa-Hasa or Half Moon Shoal.

“This only goes to show that we’re not discriminating between the Chinese and Filipino fishermen intercepted in Hasa-Hasa Shoal. The Filipino fishermen were immediately brought to court. We’re treating our Chinese friends humanely here,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese fishing vessel that is supposedly arriving in Puerto Princesa, specifically at the PNP Maritime SBU Headquarters in Barangay Sta. Lourdes, might be delayed as the maritime boat tugging it from Hasa-Hasa Shoal reportedly suffered from engine trouble.

Canilla suspects that the fishing vessel with over 300 heads of live and dead endangered green sea turtles will arrive in Puerto Princesa early Friday morning.

Rebel returnees receive cash assistance from government

From the Philippine News Agency (May 8): Rebel returnees receive cash assistance from government

A total of 30 former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros Oriental have received financial assistance from the provincial government as part of government efforts to help them rebuild their lives following their surrender over the past recent years.

One rebel returnee also received a hefty sum from the national government under the guns-for-cash program while a woman also received cash assistance for her house that was damaged recently during an encounter between rebel forces and government troops.

The awarding of the financial aid was held Wednesday during the joint signing of the declaration of the province of Negros Oriental as conflict manageable and development ready.

Governor Roel Degamo and Vice Governor Mark Macias led the distribution of the financial assistance with Sec. Voltaire Gazmin of the Department of National Defense and ranking officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines also in attendance.

Those who received P3,000 each as emergency/immediate cash assistance were: Benmar A. Gutib of Datagon, Pamplona; Sanny Boy O. Sinda and Ramil S. Cadelina, of Apoloy, Siaton; Romnick Dacal Dacal of Nagbalaye, Jory F. Lascuna and Maribeth C. Lascuna of Talalak, all in Sta. Catalina;

Langie A. Desmoparan of Alangilan, Sta. Catalina; Romy C. Banawa, Nagbinlod, Sta. Catalina; Bartolome P. Quitay, Mantiquil, Siaton; Danny J. Potane, Napacao, Siaton; Jorgie K. Quitay, Mantiquil, Siaton; Marcelo B. Gallardo of Nagbinlod, Alfredo C. Recla, Nagbinlod, Junny S. Dacal Dacal, Nagbalaye, Jarvie A. Edano, Talalak, Marilou L. Angcon, Nagbinlod, Pedro M. Candilaza, Nagbinlod, Rocelyn P. Namoco, Nagbinlod all of Sta. Catalina; Genie S. Labrador, Tayak, Jessie N. Ragay, Sandulot, Rosalina C. Delos Santos, Tayak, all in Siaton;

Joan C. Gajelloma, Najandig, Joel P. Gajelloma, Najandig, Wyne E. Alegre, Arnel P. Aplicador, Jessie J. Potane, Lodie L. Espadilla and Logie L. Espadilla, Federico O. Inoferio, all of Calango, Zamboanguita, and Rey V. Sayson of Balugo, Sibulan.

Meanwhile, Winifreda Rabor was given P10,000 cash after her house was destroyed during an encounter between soldiers of the 79th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and suspected NPA rebels in Balayong, Pamplona last April 3.

Army officials said the NPA rebels sought shelter at the house of Winifreda, which was later damaged after both groups exchanged firefight. The Army announced last week it had already repaired the damaged house.

On the other hand, former NPA member Gregorio Manlangit received a total of P83,700 representing the amount awarded by the military for the firearm he turned over during his surrender as well as other social and livelihood benefits.

Gov. Degamo has repeatedly vowed that members of the NPA who wish to leave the underground movement and return to mainstream society will be given assistance to help them start their lives anew.

US to demonstrate maritime surveillance system in Balikatan

From the Philippine News Agency (May 9): US to demonstrate maritime surveillance system in Balikatan

US forces participating in this year's "Balikatan" exercises will demonstrate the capabilities of their "Maritime Surveillance System" (MSS) to their Filipino counterparts at the Naval Education Training Command, San Antonio town, Zambales on Friday.

Lt. (JG) Annaleah Cazcarro, Combined Joint Information Bureau co-director, said that the MMS has a maximum range of 25 nautical miles.

She added it consist of a control center or van and tower fitted with radars and camera.

"The MMS can track targets within a 25 nautical mile radius and once it drops beyond that, it can use its camera systems to zoom on the target," Cazcarro pointed out.

It was also used in Afghanistan to detect incoming Taliban terrorists, she added.

Demonstration of the MSS is in line with "Balikatan 2014" goals of improving the maritime domain awareness and interdiction capabilities of the Philippine Navy.

Gov’t assures no establishment of large, permanent US bases in PHL under defense pact

From the Philippine News Agency (May 8): Gov’t assures no establishment of large, permanent US bases in PHL under defense pact

The Philippines will not become a large and permanent base for United States (US) forces under the recently forged defense deal between the two countries.

Government officials reiterated this assurance in a Palace press briefing on Thursday amid speculations the country would be a launching pad for the US operations through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

“I think that (it) is important to put a stress on, as some stakeholders would state that allegedly through EDCA, the Philippines had become a large US base. No, definitely not. The DND (Department of National Defense) and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) will study which of their AFP bases will be the ones covered under EDCA,” said Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino.

Batino, chairman of the Philippine panel that negotiated the pact with the US, said the agreement institutionalizes prepositioning of US equipment within AFP locations, and the construction of related facilities to accommodate such prepositioning and other enhanced defense cooperation activities.

“We would want to emphasize though that under EDCA it is very clear that, for any prepositioning and construction activity to happen, the consent of the Philippine government is necessary,” he stressed.

Batino said the Philippines will determine which areas and the size of those locations which will be shared with the US.

“It will not be the whole AFP base because, as you know, we need all of our AFP bases. So all of these would have to be determined: what facilities would be constructed for joint use? What equipment would be allowed to be prepositioned in these agreed locations?,” he explained.

“...We are the host and they’re our guests. And the Philippine side would have the final say as to where these agreed locations will be... We can make an offer as to where they can go, then they can probably select from those,” said Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya.

Further, Batino said the stay of the US troops will be temporary in accordance with the defense agreement.

“There is clear language here under EDCA that the US, the parties do not authorize the permanent military presence or the establishment of a base by the US. In fact, under another article, the EDCA also provides that the access will be on a rotational or temporary basis,” he said.

Batino added that the number of troops would be determined through the yearly Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board consultation.

Army to investigate fire, blast in Fort Bonifacio

From the Philippine News Agency (May 8): Army to investigate fire, blast in Fort Bonifacio

The Philippine Army (PA) has announced that it will conduct a detailed investigation to determine the exact cause of the fire and explosion which destroyed the Explosive Ordnance Division building of the Army Support Command (ASCOM) in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City Wednesday morning.

Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, Army spokesperson, said the administrative investigation (for possible lapses) will be conducted by the ASCOM and the PA Inspector General, while the technical side (exact cause of the fire and explosion) will be handled by the Bureau of Fire Protection.

He also clarified that the fire and subsequent explosion took place not in the armory, as reported by some media entities, but in the EOD Battalion headquarters supply room.

Detoyato stressed that the supply room was two by two meters in dimension and made of pure concrete.

The PA spokesperson added that its walls are a foot thick.

Detoyato said that the supply room contains basic ammunition rounds and some C-4 explosives.

He added that the large blast, which caused the massive vibration, came from the exploding C-4 blocks.

Twenty-five persons were injured in the incident -- four officers, nine enlisted personnel and 12 Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) personnel.

Detoyato said the victims were immediately brought to the Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio.

The fire burned the whole EOD Battalion Headquarters at the ASCOM.

AFP modernization is DND main agenda not EDCA -- Defense official

From the Philippine News Agency (May 8): AFP modernization is DND main agenda not EDCA -- Defense official

The modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) can benefit from the primary features of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) through the prepositioning of US military equipment and construction of facilities in Philippine military bases.

Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, chairperson of the Philippine negotiating panel for EDCA, said that while EDCA will address the short-term capability gaps of the AFP, the modernization program is the Department of National Defense (DND)’s main agenda not EDCA.

After 15-16 years of joint training exercises under Balikatan between the Philippines and the US, the EDCA was signed to strengthen existing treaties between the two countries -– the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) -– and to institutionalize joint military and defense activities.

While there is prepositioning of US military equipment and construction of facilities under EDCA, Batino said “EDCA is not the primary program of the Department of Defense (DND), it is its own Armed Forces Modernization program.”

He said the AFP modernization program is designed to develop a technologically advanced defense system for the Philippines.

“Through the AFP Modernization program, we would want to achieve a credible defense posture soonest,” Batino said.

With President Benigno S. Aquino III and Congressional support, at least 75 billion pesos was allocated to the first five years of the AFP modernization program.

A comprehensive plan is being done by the AFP and DND for the procurement of modern defense equipment with the said budget in mind.

”This is the Philippine government’s way of implementing the principle of self-help and we must rely with ourselves primarily,” Batino said.

PHL’s new defense pact with US seen to boost businesses

From the Philippine News Agency (May 8): PHL’s new defense pact with US seen to boost businesses

The new defense cooperation agreement between the Philippines and the United States will not only enhance the military capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) but will also boost local businesses.

Ambassador Eduardo Malaya, a member of the Philippine negotiating panel for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), said in a Malacanang press briefing Thursday that one of the main features of the pact states the preference for local suppliers of goods and services in the logistics requirements.

Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino said EDCA institutionalizes prepositioning of US equipment within the AFP locations and the construction of related facilities to accommodate such prepositioning and other enhanced defense cooperation activities.

Malaya said the military practice will engage contractors to construct buildings and infrastructures inside the AFP camps.

He said the construction materials will be likely also sourced locally.

“So, ito pong EDCA ay makatutulong sa paglago ng ating negosyo (So this EDCA will help boost our businesses),” he added.

The two countries signed the agreement, which is envisioned to advance the implementation of the Philippines-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), during the visit of US President Barack Obama to Manila last April.