Thursday, May 22, 2014

Shipping Issues in West Philippine Sea continue to rise

From the Philippine News Agency (May 23): Shipping Issues in West Philippine Sea continue to rise

The West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea is the main route of all merchant ships. Each day, thousands of oil tankers, bulk carriers, container ships and other cargo vessels of various displacements sail the sea.

This trading route was commonly used by many Asian countries, the Philippines, Vietnam and China that often used this marine route as their major trading route.

With reasons like these, international efforts must ensure commercial shipping lanes in the region to have an unmitigated operation, experts say.

The trading routes can be affected by the territorial disputes that is happening between China and their neighboring countries.

China’s ongoing conflicts with their neighboring countries show the idea. In July 2012, China established the city of Sansha on one of the Paracel Islands as part of Hainan province to control many island groups and undersea atolls in the South China Sea. Beijing’s move enraged Vietnam and the Philippines.

According to many regional experts and analysts, China doesn’t have the intention of disrupting the shipping lanes, even though they emphasize their territorial mindset to their neighbors.

“The Philippine government had many chances to ratify the archipelago territory treaty but failed to do so due to internal politics,” said Karsten von Hoesslin, a Singapore-based senior analyst.

Rommel C. Banlaoi, chairman of the board and executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research said, “China claims almost 80 percent of all the waters and land features in the South China Sea and opposes any oil and natural gas exploration and development in a maritime area that she claims as part of its sovereign territory.”

Many conflicts had already happened in the past because of the usage of the West Philippine Sea as a trading route, along with the undying Spratly Islands dispute.

2 more rebels surrender to Army unit in Misamis Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (May 23): 2 more rebels surrender to Army unit in Misamis Oriental

Two more New People's Army (NPA) fighters have voluntarily surrendered to the 58th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Minalwang, Claveria town, Misamis Oriental Thursday.

In a statement Friday, 58th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Jose Eriel M. Niembra identified the surrenderees as Reyram Mansangcagan and Ariel Lindaan, members of the NPA's Guerilla Front 4B, Northern Central Mindanao Regional Committee.

They surrendered with them one .303 Springfield rifle and an M-16 automatic rifle.

Niembra said that the two rebels decided to give up after realizing the futility of armed struggle and desire to be with their families.

He added that the duo were even surprised at the respect and consideration shown to them by 58th Infantry Battalion troopers when they surrendered.

Questioning revealed that the two became full-time NPA fighters in 2013.

Upon joining, NPA leaders promised them monthly allowances and large tracts of land should the movement succeed.

However, nothing came out of these promises and incessant hardship in the mountains and causeless fighting coupled with the banditry works forced upon them by their leaders, prompted them to surrender.

“The people in the countryside are all tired of the atrocities and extortion of the New People’s Army. The populace and barangay officials are fully cooperating with the military, they are not only giving exact information on the presence of NPA bandits but convincing them as well to lay down their arms and return to mainstream society, thus, the surrender of the two former NPA members," Niembra stressed.

“Military operation against NPA bandits will push through with enthusiasm and dedication for the welfare of the people in Gingoog City specifically the province of Misamis Oriental, those who opt to lay down their arms and rejoin mainstream society are all welcome anytime this will be compensated with the local government programs and the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Guns for Peace program,” he concluded.

Ranking US officials to lead Memorial Day rites on May 25

From the Philippine News Agency (May 23): Ranking US officials to lead Memorial Day rites on May 25

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip S. Goldberg, Pacific Command head Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, and III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Forces-Japan commander General John Wissler will lead the US Memorial Day ceremony at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio this coming Sunday, May 25.

Ceremonies will start at 8 a.m.

Philippine government officials, representatives from the diplomatic and consular corps, and members of the American and Filipino veterans’ communities will participate in the program of remembrance for men and women who served in the US military and lost their lives in defense of freedom and democracy.

Filipino army officer’s identification document found in Lahad Datu, court told

From the Borneo Post (May 22): Filipino army officer’s identification document found in Lahad Datu, court told
KOTA KINABALU: An identification card (IC) belonging to a high ranking Filipino army official was found at a skirmish area in Kampung Tanjung Batu, Lahad Datu on March 7, last year, the High Court here was told yesterday.

ASP Mursalim Mohd Salleh said the document was among 21 types of ICs bearing Philippine citizenship.

“I remember that one of the cards was under the name, ‘General Musa’,” he said.

When identifying the cards tendered in court, he said one had the words which read, ‘General Headquarters Bangsa Sulu Royal Security Force’ under the name, ‘General Musa A Abdullah.’

He told the court that the cardholder’s post was stated as ‘Vice Chief of Staff’ and was signed by ‘Raja Muda Datu Agbimuddin Kiram, Royal Defence Minister.’

Mursalim also told the court that six of the ICs displayed the words, ‘Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo (Sabah)’, with most bearing the signature of Datu Agbimuddin.

The other cards displayed the words, ‘General Headquarters Royal Security Force’; ‘Headquarters 3rd Royal Security Force (Cobra) Brigade’; ‘Headquarters Mindanao Allied Force (MAF) Inc’, ‘General Headquarters Royal Armed Forces’ and one with words that read, ‘Office of the President of the Philippines. Office of the Presidential Advisor of the Peace Process’.

Mursalim noted that among the identification documents were health cards, association membership cards, community college card, high school card and a voter’s identification card.

Earlier, he identified 14 documents which he had seized at the village, including a blank piece of paper, two blank withdrawal slips of Bank Islam and lyrics of a religious song in the Suluk language.

Thirty accused, comprising 27 Filipinos and three local residents, are being tried in the case, in which some are facing multiple charges of being members of a terrorist group or waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, recruiting members for a terrorist group or willfully harbouring individuals they knew to be members of a terrorist group.

They allegedly committed the offences between Feb 12 and April 10 last year.

The hearing before Justice Stephen Chung at the Sabah Prisons Department continues today.

US, PH troops to build school buildings in Cebu

From the Sun Star-Cebu (May 21): US, PH troops to build school buildings in Cebu

MEN and women from the US and Philippine military are building two classrooms in a school in Barangay Maribago, Lapu-Lapu City, as schools nationwide start preparing for next month’s opening of classes.

Mayor Paz Radaza thanked the US Air Force and Philippine Air Force (PAF) during yesterday’s ground-breaking ceremony at the Buyong Elementary School, saying the City needs to cope with the yearly increase in the number of enrollees.

“Since the start of my administration, I’ve made education part of my top priorities,” she said in a message she delivered before teachers and soldiers.
The US Air Force is funding the project, which is being implemented by its 374th Civil Engineering Squadron.

About 30 members of the squadron, which is based in Japan, are constructing the two-room school building with the help of volunteers from PAF.

Navy, too

The US Navy will also build one classroom in Carcar City as part of the US Government’s support to the Philippines. The project is in partnership with the Naval Forces Central (Navforcen), which had already signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the US Navy 30th Naval Construction Regiment through Lt. Junior Grade Dylan Bush.

The foreign Navy will shoulder the cost of the construction of the classrooms in Valencia, Carcar City.

Target date

Lieutenant Kory Carpenter, the project in-charge from the US Air Force, said their target is to complete the construction by June 28.

Brigadier Gen. Raymundo Elefante, commander of the 560th Air Base in Lapu-Lapu City, said the building will be constructed using high-standard materials.

Carpenter did not disclose the project’s cost, but he assured the structure will be built in accordance with the standards set by the Department of Education (DepEd).

After last year’s earthquake and super typhoon destroyed schools, the DepEd has set a higher standard for school buildings, with each classroom now costing at least P1.2 million from P800,000.

“I hope (the children) get to use the building to further their education,” Carpenter said in an interview with reporters.

Their squadron also implemented a similar project in Legaspi, Albay as part of their Pacific Unity program, he added.

For Lapu-Lapu, they sought the help of officials at the Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base in finding a recipient.

Not Balikatan

Elefante and Carpenter said the project is not part of the Balikatan Exercises, the ongoing training program of the Philippine and US military.

Last school year, the Buyong Elementary School had 1,300 pupils attending classes in only 17 classrooms.

Dr. Eduardo Ompad, DepEd Lapu-Lapu City Division superintendent, said Grade 1 and Grade 2 pupils will use the donated classrooms.

Bigger schools are implementing double shifting of classes to accommodate the increasing number Grade 1 and Grade 2 pupils, said Ompad.

He said a number of school buildings is being constructed to address the city’s lack of classrooms, but keeping up with the growing population of students remains a challenge.

He said the number of enrollees in public schools increases by 3.5 percent every year.

 Radaza said the city lacked about 500 classrooms and she hopes to reduce the shortage by half by 2016.

“We are slowly achieving this goal,” she said, adding she hopes the donation in Buyong Elementary School will encourage more groups to build classrooms.

Among the nongovernment organizations that are donating classrooms in Lapu-Lapu are the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Aboitiz Foundation and East Asia Utilities, Inc.

Meanwhile, Navforcen Commodore Reynaldo Yoma said construction experts from the Philippine Navy will augment the forces of US Navy and will help them during the construction.

Yoma told Sun.Star Cebu said at least 15 personnel from the Naval Construction Brigade (Seabees) will be assigned to the area for the project.

Yoma said they are just waiting for the confirmation from its national headquarters so they can deploy their personnel and start the project.

The agreement also states that Navforcen will allow the US Navy to use their facility at the Rafael Ramos Naval Base as equipment storage.

US Navy troops arrived in Cebu early this week bringing with them construction materials and equipment; some have been to the site to start some ground works.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the project is set to be conducted next week.

Aside from Carcar City, the US troops are also set to construct other classrooms in other towns in Cebu once the first project is completed.

RAAF Orions join US Navy in submarine hunt

From the Australian Defense Magazine (May 23): RAAF Orions join US Navy in submarine hunt

RAAF Sensor Employment Manager, Flight Lieutenant Steve Finley (left), describes the RAAF AP-3C Orion's Electro Optical Camera to Philippines Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Rhonette Bihasa while RAAF Airborne Electronics Analyst, Sergeant Troy Cousins, operates the Electro Optics Camera for Philippines Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Marc Hel Geonanga during an Orion maritime surveillance patrol in the Sulu Sea as part of Exercise BALIKATAN.

RAAF Sensor Employment Manager, Flight Lieutenant Steve Finley (left), describes the RAAF AP-3C Orion's Electro Optical Camera to Philippines Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Rhonette Bihasa while RAAF Airborne Electronics Analyst, Sergeant Troy Cousins, operates the Electro Optics Camera for Philippines Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Marc Hel Geonanga during an Orion maritime surveillance patrol in the Sulu Sea as part of Exercise BALIKATAN.

The ADF participated in the Philippines/US Exercise BALIKATAN which ran from 21 April – 16 May 14. The exercise was conducted on the islands of Luzon and Palawan in the Philippines.

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) AP-3C Orion aircraft joined forces with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and US Navy (USN) in a test of Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) off the Philippines coast.

An AP-3C Orion from No. 92 Wing flew a maritime surveillance sortie, in support of a USN P-3C, using an Expendable Mobile ASW Training Target.

The activity was held as part Exercise BALIKATAN 2014, the major regional exercise for the Philippines and the US.

Exercise BALIKATAN Australian Contingent Commander, Wing Commander Nicholas Pratt said this was a significant event for all involved.

“The P3 flying program highlighted the mutual cooperation that is required during a maritime security scenario such as that being exercised during BALIKATAN 2014”

Both flights included members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who were able to observe the capabilities and techniques being employed on these types of flights.

“RAAF’s participation in the Exercise helped reinforce the positive relationships between the ADF, the AFP and the USN" he said.

“It was a great opportunity for AFP members to observe and participate in both flights.

“Activities such as today's missions are directly contributing to stronger regional security cooperation,” Wing Commander Pratt said.

NPA losing ground in Quezon, claims Army officer

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 22): NPA losing ground in Quezon, claims Army officer

The New People’s Army is losing the battle in Quezon province, forcing it to bring in warriors from other parts of the country to make its presence felt, a military official claimed Thursday.

“The NPA rebels in Quezon are now dwindling. They have to import comrades from Bicol, Mindoro and Batangas to help them recover lost ground,” Col. Rhoderick Parayno, the new commander of the Army’s 201st Infantry Brigade operating in Quezon, said in an interview.

He said communist guerrillas in the province were exerting all their effort on occasional tactical offensives, harassment, propaganda and collection of the so-called revolutionary tax to give the impression that they were still a force to reckon with.

Parayno said with the cooperation of local government officials and ordinary citizens in the government anti-insurgency program, the NPA in Quezon would find it hard to recover.

“Most of the time, it is the people themselves through text messages who are providing us the locations of the enemies,” Parayno said.

On Monday, at least two suspected NPA rebels were killed in an encounter with Army soldiers in Tayabas City.

Lt. Col. Lloyd Cabacungan, spokesman of the Armed Forces’ Southern Luzon Command, said that patrolling soldiers from the 85th Infantry Battalion engaged a band of rebels in Barangay Palali at 4:15 p.m. on Monday.

Cabacungan identified one of the slain rebels as a Peping Agudo, the alleged logistics and finance officer of an NPA platoon under the Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee. The other fatality had yet to be identified.

Military records showed Agudo was captured in 2012 and jailed in Bicutan. However, he jumped bail and returned to the underground movement.

AFP chief sees more rebels to surrender

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (May 22): AFP chief sees more rebels to surrender

ARMED Forces of the Philippines chief General Emmanuel Bautista is seeing more New People’s Army (NPA) rebels to surrender in huge number after the turnover of 97 former rebels carrying firearms in Patin-ay town in Agusan del Sur Wednesday morning.

“This is actually the second massive turnover of those who surrendered this year. The first was in March when around 72 former NPA rebels mostly from Bukidnon surrendered. As evidenced by the massive numbers of those who surrendered, you can really see for yourself what is really happening. We hope his trend will go on and on,” said Bautista.

Bautista said this will have a ripple effect in the coming months.

“We shouldn’t be killing and waging war on each other, we should be helping each other as the real essence of our ‘Bayanihan.’ And this is our call to everyone especially those who are still in the mountains that hopefully we should all be working together,” he said.

More troops in Northeastern M'nao

“Because of the big decrease in the insurgency problem in Luzon, we are pulling out troops there and sending more into Northeastern Mindanao. In fact, a lot of the areas in Luzon are now peaceful and enjoying development. Even in Central Mindanao, after the signing of the peace agreement we have seen the decrease in hostilities, so we are hoping that the peace will also influence this area in Mindanao,” said Bautista.

However, Bautista said the people’s support is vital to co-exist with the increased in troops.

“But the main solution is not only in the part of the military, because no matter how big the number of troops we bring in it will not work without the help and cooperation of the communities and the people. This problem will never end. That’s why we need people’s help to support us in our efforts, to work with us find lasting peace in our land because everybody will benefit from it,” Bautista said.

“Of the 97, only 33 of the rebel returnees are regular NPA members while 61 are members of the militia ng bayan and barrio committees. Three are from Surigao del Sur and the 70 are Manobos. A total of P881,750 was handed over to them in exchange of the 93 assorted firearms that they surrendered to us,” Lieutenant Colonel Jose Leonard Gille, acting spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said.

Based on the records, most of the rebels came from Sitio Mactan in Barangay Kasapa 1 in the town of Loreto in Agusan del Sur and majority of the 65 assorted firearms surrendered are homemade.

Not NPA rebels

In an e-mailed statement on May 9, 2014, the NPA rebels in Bukidnon claimed that majority of those who surrendered in March were not members of the NPA.

“The armed forces have incorporated in their Community Operation for Peace and Development (COPD) under their Oplan Bayanihan a tactic to legalize their claims of success by putting up fake surrenderees. They have gathered residents and forced them to claim they are members of the NPA which is as an act of desperation,” the statement read.

It furthered that putting up false NPA rebels as rebel returnees is not new and has been going on as part of the army’s psychological warfare strategy.
Bautista, on the other hand, denied the claim of the NPA and urged members of the media to find out the truth.

Army ordnance battalion commander sacked over deadly Fort Boni blast

From InterAksyon (May 22): Army ordnance battalion commander sacked over deadly Fort Boni blast

Lieutenant Colonel Florante Sison, the battalion commander of the Ordnance and Explosives Division of the Philippine Army Support Command, was sacked from his post following the death of a third soldier who was among the injured in the May 7 explosion in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

“He is immediately relieved from his post and he will not be able to hold any command position for the next two years,” Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato said on Thursday, adding that Sison’s termination was based on command responsibility.

First Lt. Dinar Alosada, the third fatality, died at 3:59 p.m., Wednesday, at the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City. The other two fatalities were Corporal Bernabe Mota and Master Sergeant Ferdinand Rafa passed away. The three victims suffered from serious burns in the blast that rocked the Army compound and also injured 30 other military personnel including civilian firefighters.

The other casualties are already out of danger but need continuous medication and longer recuperation, according to Detoyato.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Hernando Irriberi promised to make public within this week the result of the investigation on the blast.

According to Detoyato "there (was) no safety officer detailed" at the the compound "when the fire started."

"Kung minsan nakakalimutan ‘yong procedures [Sometimes procucedures are forgotten], he said, adding that there was also violation of standard operation procedures.

Gun and artillery powders at the Army compound were reportedly not properly kept and sometimes “littered” in and outside the storage section of the explosives.

Detoyato confirmed this, saying “Kaya nagkaroon ng fire tapos naging mabilis [The fire quickly spread]...because there was a presence of powder... May mga blank ammos kasi doon ng 105 [There wre blank ammos there for 105 howitzer]."

He said this was based on statements of eye witnesses and even from the survivors.

Detoyato said the recommendation was to craft a better demilitarization program to prevent a repeat of the incident.

"Another is to create an Army wide study group to enhance safety standards in handing, storage and maintenance and disposal of ammunition and explosives,” he said.

As an immediate preventive measure, the Army support command has already started transferring the bulk of the explosives to Camp Aquino, the headquarters of the Northern Luzon Command based in Tarlac City, according to Detoyato.

COA to military: Return P61M in Malampaya funds

From Rappler (May 22): COA to military: Return P61M in Malampaya funds

The Malampaya fund was supposed to finance 6 projects of the Philippine Navy, which is fast-tracking the purchase of assets because of escalating maritime disputes in the region

There goes the funding for 6 Philippine Navy projects.

The Commission on Audit (COA) asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to return to the Bureau of Treasury P61.19 million ($1.4) of Malampaya funds that the military improperly transferred to its accounts, according to an audit observation memorandum obtained by Rappler.

“Remit the funds sourced from Malampaya to the Bureau of Treasury to enable the latter to revert the same to the Malampaya Funds,” reads the COA memo sent on March 17, 2014 to Nilo Abaigar, chief accountant of the Armed Forces of the Philippines general headquarters.

The fund transfer is a possible violation of the Supreme Court (SC) decision on the use of Malampaya funds for projects on energy resource development and exploitation programs.

Malacañang allocated the money – through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) long before it became controversial – to finance 6 projects of the Philippine Navy. The fund was parked in the national treasury’s Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act Trust Fund (AFPMATF), which the AFP can draw from once the contracts are ready and the money is already needed. (READ: SC stops release of PDAF, Malampaya fund)

Critics protested Malacanãng's use of the DAP as a channel to allocate funds. It was allegedly used, among others, to bribe senators to convict removed Chief Justice Renato Corona. (READ: Drilon admits receiving P10M after Corona trial)

The P900-million ($20-M) Malampaya fund itself has been tainted with corruption. Much of the fund was allegedly lost to the pockets of fake non-governmental organizations linked to detained pork barrel scam suspect Janet Napoles. (READ: How the Malampaya fund was plundered)

When the SC ruling came out in November 2013, military officers lamented its unintended impact on the AFP modernization program. The Malampaya natural gas project funds several AFP modernization projects including the refurbishment of the country's two warships. (READ: Suspension of Malampaya funds to derail AFP modernization)

AFP ignores Court

The AFP ignored the SC ruling, the COA memo shows.

On December 21, 2013, higher headquarters transferred the money from the treasury’s AFP Modernization Act Trust Fund to an AFPMATF Combo Account. The transfer was made a month after the SC ruling.

It was obviously a move to secure the money for the projects of the navy before the treasury moves the money back to the Malampaya fund to heed the Court's verdict.

“The transfer of the NCA from MDS to the combo account for future use for the Philippine Navy projects may not be valid, since Malampaya funds has to be utilized only for the special purposes not otherwise declared as unconstitutional, such as those to finance energy resource development and exploitation programs and projects.”

“The transfer to the Combo account of the P61,190,452 sourced from Malampaya funds for future use of the AFP Modernization program may not be proper pursuant to the November 19, 2013 promulgation by the Supreme Court, enjoining the use of the Malampaya funds for purposes other than to finance energy resource development and exploitation programs and projects,” COA added.

The COA memo covers 6 unidentified projects of the Philippine Navy, which is fast-tracking the acquisition of assets because of the escalating maritime disputes in the region. It is not clear if there are other projects are affected.

A pending project to upgrade a naval detachment facing the disputed Spratlys will also be financed by Malampaya funds, said navy spokesperson Commander Gregory Fabic.

But the Malampaya fund has been tainted with corruption.

The military, a laggard in the region in terms of ships and aircraft, has been trying to modernize as it begins to focus on external defense and given the Philippine government's worsening maritime row with China.

But it's also been beset with corruption over the last decades.

Surprise appointment for AFP chief contender

From Rappler (May 22): Surprise appointment for AFP chief contender

Catapang's new post is an administrative position. It's different from his former post where he had under his operational command 2 Army infantry divisions, one naval base, and one air base.

AFP'S NUMBER 2: Lieutenant General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. Photo courtesy of AFP-PAO
AFP'S NUMBER 2: Lieutenant General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. Photo courtesy of AFP-PAO

His appointment as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vice chief of staff was a complete surprise because months ago, many thought he would be the AFP's next big boss.

Lieutenant General Gregorio Catapang Jr assumed the post on Thursday, May 22, succeeding Lieutenant General Allan Luga who retired on May 12. Both belong to the Philippine Military Academy Class 1981.

The new appointment makes Catapang, the former Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), the Number 2 of the 125,000-strong Philippine military.

It is an administrative position. It is different from his former post where he had under his operational command two divisions, one naval station, and an air base:

5th Infantry Division (5ID) in Isabela

7th Infantry Division (7ID) in Nueva Ecija

Naval Forces Northern Luzon in La Union

1st Air Division based in Clark

Slimmer chances

His appointment doesn't preclude his possible nomination to succeed AFP chief General Emmanuel Bautista but the new appointment now casts doubt on his chances. In the past, former AFP chiefs of staff came from major service commands.

For instance, prior to his appointment as AFP chief, Bautista was former army commanding general. Part of PMA Class 1981, he will retire in two months, on July 20.

By the end of the year, the AFP top brass will have a new composition. (READ Shake up: AFP top brass retiring this year)

Catapang was also a strong contender for chief of the Philippine Army when the post was vacated in February, but it was snatched at the last minute by an officer previously under his command, now Army chief Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri.

Iriberri is also a strong contender for AFP chief, along with new Air Force chief Lieutenant General Jeffrey Delgado.

When he was a young lieutenant, Catapang joined the military revolt against the Marcos dictatorship as member of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM). He was part of the EDSA rebel force that secured the Radio Veritas station in Quezon City that was used by the mutinous units to broadcast their anti-Marcos propaganda.

After Edsa 1, Catapang pushed for the disbandment of RAM because it was becoming divisive. The group would be responsible for various coup attempts against the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino. (READ: Gregorio Catapang: 'I was prepared to die for this cause')

Before becoming the Nolcom chief, Catapang was the same command's operations chief and then later commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division based in Nueva Ecija.

Catapang is new AFP vice chief

From the Philippine Star (May 22): Catapang is new AFP vice chief

A member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class ’81 has been named as the Armed Forces Vice Chief of Staff, the second highest position in the military.

Lt. Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr., the outgoing commander of the Tarlac-based Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM), was designated to the post last week.

President Aquino approved Catapang’s designation on May 16, a Malacañang letter addressed to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin showed.

While the Vice Chief of Staff is next only to the Chief of Staff in terms of position, it is not a coveted assignment because it is perceived as an office job.

Catapang succeeded his classmate, former Armed Forces Vice Chief Alan Luga, who retired from the service last May 11.

Prior to his appointment as NOLCOM commander, Catapang served as chief of the Army’s 7th division based in Nueva Ecija.

He was also the former commander of the 703rd Infantry Brigade and a member of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement during his younger years.

In February, Catapang was  touted as one of the possible successors of then retiring Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes.

The post, however, was given to PMA class ’83 member Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri, former chief of the 7th Infantry Division and erstwhile senior military adviser of Gazmin.

Prior to his appointment as Vice Chief, Catapang was regarded as a contender to succeed Armed Forces Chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, who will bow out of the service on July 20.

It remains uncertain whether Catapang’s appointment as Vice Chief would affect his chances to become the next leader of the 125,000-strong armed forces.

Catapang will reach the mandatory age of 56 on July 11, 2015. However, he remains qualified to become the next military chief because the post is not covered by the law that bars the promotion to the next rank of officers with less than a year left in service.

Besides Catapang, other officers that are said to have strong chances to succeed Bautista are Iriberri and Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado, a graduate of PMA class ’82 and former member of the Presidential Security Group of then President Corazon Aquino.

Iriberri will reach the mandatory retirement age on April 22, 2016 while Delgado is scheduled to hang up his uniform on March 20, 2016.

Ex-DND exec: Phl on its own in row with China

From the Philippine Star (May 22): Ex-DND exec: Phl on its own in row with China

The Philippines should not depend too much on the United States (US) for its external defense as Washington would only act to protect its interests, a former security official said Thursday.

Former Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado said the Philippines should instead undertake military reforms to address its security challenges.

“You have to be very careful. You can’t rely on one power to come to your succor and defend you,” Mercado said in a speech delivered at the Development Academy of the Philippines in Pasig.

“The US will not fire a single bullet unless it is within their interest to do so,” he added.

Mercado said the Philippines’ move to renew its alliance with the US is a “good tactical move.” However, he said the Philippines could not let other nations secure its sovereignty.

“We cannot abdicate our role and function of defending the sovereignty of this nation. We cannot abdicate that function and give it to another country,” Mercado said.

He said he was hoping that the removal of US bases in the Philippines in 1991 would make Filipinos think about long term strategies.

“But we missed out on that and now, we are forced to do so. Let's not allow this crisis  to go to waste, let us develop our own mechanisms,” Mercado said.

Last month, the Philippines and the US signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows American troops to set up facilities in military bases in the country.

The deal was signed amid China’s aggressive efforts to assert its territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the subject of a long-standing dispute in the region.

The US has said that it won’t side with any country involved in the territorial row but is supportive of moves to resolve the issue through international arbitration.

Mercado said it is difficult, if not impossible to resolve the West Philippine Sea tussle or even match the capabilities of China’s armed forces.

“To effectively address our security challenges, we must first turn our weaknesses into strengths. We cannot respond by simply obtaining modern military equipment, weaponry and facilities,” the former defense chief said.

“What we need is, first to reform our armed forces,” he added.

Mercado noted that during his stint as defense secretary, he asked the assistance of the US to conduct an exhaustive management audit of the military.

He said the audit found “serous weaknesses” in the military including deficiencies in operations and training, systemic approach to policy planning and infrastructure support.

Mercado said it’s about time to revisit the Philippine Defense Reform Program to address gaps and to improve existing systems.

The Philippines, Mercado said, should resort to diplomacy or “soft power” to ease tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

“Bringing the dispute to the UN (United Nations) arbitral tribunal is using smart power. We have to draw from the well of creativity for tactics that may go beyond the conventional,” he added.

Gov't forces nab another 'Sayyaf bomber'

From the Philippine Star (May 22): Gov't forces nab another 'Sayyaf bomber'

Pursuing military and police forces tracked down and captured another suspected Abu Sayyaf bomber Thursday morning in a remote barangay in Siocon town, Zamboanga del Norte, according to a official.

Police Senior Inspector Joseph Ortega, spokesman of Police Regional Office 9 (PRO), identified the suspect as Najir Ajilul, tagged as bomber and a member of the Abu Sayyaf hit squad Urban Terror Group (UTG).

Ajilul,  also known as Arab-arab, Jamil, Najer, Abu Robin, was captured about 7:45 a.m. Thursday following a brief shootout against elements of the 13th Special Forces Company (SFC) at sitio Canatuan, Barangay Tabayo, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.

The suspect was captured as military forces backed by the intelligence units of the police and military  unearthed bombing plot of the Abu Sayyaf group.

Ortega said the arresting forces also recovered from the captured suspect a .45 caliber pistol and a fragmentation grenade.

Authorities on Saturday also  arrested Nujir Ahidji alias Abu Jomar, who is described to be an improvised explosive device (IED) expert, in a village  outside the headquarters of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

Police confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf with its cohorts have plotted to stage bombings in key places such as North Cotabato and this city following Ahidji's capture.

The discovery of the bombing threat prompted the police and military to step up the tracking operations against the suspects in the region.

NorCot gov condemns NPA attack on town police station

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): NorCot gov condemns NPA attack on town police station

North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza on Thursday condemned the assault staged by suspected members of the New People's Army (NPA) at a police station in the town of President Roxas, Cotabato province on May 20.

“As your Governor, and together with most peace loving Cotabatenos, I condemn in the strongest sense the reported assault by these suspected NPA members for their atrocious and terrorist acts," she said in a statement.

"The gallant stand of Philipine National Police officers and men of President Roxas prevented the success of the evil deed and restored normalcy when the NPA members retreated towards Barangay Tuael,” Mendoza said.

The attack, perpetrated by alleged NPA members on board an Isuzu Forward truck bearing license plate RLY 731, resulted to a 40-minute firefight that left three rebels killed and injured a policeman who was immediately brought to the hospital.

Police investigators recovered two handheld radios, one M-16 rifle, one M-14 rifle, assorted magazines with ammunition, four cellular phones, a medical kit and the truck used in the attack.

"Hot pursuit operations are being undertaken to bring those responsible for this recent attack in the bar of justice. Further investigations are still on-going," Mendoza said.

Meanwhile, the governor said that despite the fragile peace and order situation in the province, she assured that the provincial government will continue its initiatives to attain peace and stability.

“However, our initiatives and efforts to find a solution for peace could not have positive results if atrocities like these continue to happen,” Mendoza said.

Bicol police in full alert for possible NPA attacks

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): Bicol police in full alert for possible NPA attacks

Chief Supt. Victor P. Deona, Bicol Regional Police Office director, has ordered all provincial, municipal and city police offices to be on full alert and undertake constant intelligence monitoring after gathered information revealed that New People’s Army (NPA) rebels are planning to attack anytime.

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are also under the same orders from their superiors.

Deona said that based on their information, a group of rebels have been going around in far-flung villages in the region in the past few days and planning to stage ambuscades on military, police and Special Barangay Operation Team members as well as local police offices being manned by few personnel.

Related to this, Deona said all military Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel have been banned from going to cockfights due to information that communist dissidents are out to launch liquidation missions against AFP/PNP members who go to gamecock arenas especially during Saturdays and Sundays.

He said they also received information that NPA rebels have been trying to orient villagers and recruiting new members particularly from among the youth.

The AFP and PNP commands have already instructed their respective members to gather more intelligence information on rebel plans as to what offices would be the possible objects of attack.

Just recently, Deona said that NPA members attacked the Community Police Assistance Center 4 of the Legazpi City Police Office in Barangay Taysan at about 8:20 p.m. on May 16.

The village is just a few kilometers from the Oriental Hotel where the United Nations World Tourism Organization was holding a conference.

Westmincom donates water containers, trash bins to Zambo IDPs

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): Westmincom donates water containers, trash bins to Zambo IDPs

The military’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) has donated water containers and trash bins to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) housed at the transitory site in Barangay Tulungatung, west of this city.

Westmincom information officer Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela said Thursday that the donation of nine water containers and 20 trash bins was done in partnership with the government-owned Western Mindanao State University (WMSU).

Muyuela said the containers and trash bins were received by Tulungatung Barangay Chairman Nur Joepakkal and was turned over by Westmincom civil-military operations officer Col. Rodrigo Gregorio on behalf of Westmincom chief Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.

So far, there are at least 283 IDP-families who are temporarily housed at the transitory site in Barangay Tulungatung.

The transitory site serves as the temporary settlement of the families displaced by the siege in September of last year as the government is still undertaking the reconstruction of the siege-affected areas.

AFP: NPAs eye torching NorCot police office, civilians help repel attack

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): AFP: NPAs eye torching NorCot police office, civilians help repel attack

The communist guerillas who attempted to overrun a police office in North Cotabato failed and suffered casualties in attempting to burn the newly built police office, kill policemen and seize their firearms, a police official said.

They also planned to attack a detachment of the Philippine Army in President Roxas, North Cotabato but due to increase Army presence opted to try the police office, Army Colonel Nilo Vinluan said.

Citing intelligence information, Vinluan, commander of the 57th Infantry Battalion which has jurisdiction over President Roxas, said the group of Ronald Arnado alias “Commander Revo” had planned to attack the 57th IB detachment in Green Hills.

“We monitored the plan and we deployed more troops in the area and that changed the NPA plan, they instead attacked the soft target which is the police office of Pres. Roxas,” Vinluan said.

Superintendent Danilo Peralta, North Cotabato police provincial director, said police and military personnel recovered about 21 gallons of gasoline and other flammable materials from the truck that the rebels used and abandoned.

“Obviously, they intended to burn the police office,” he said.

Vinluan also said two improvised bombs were recovered in the morning after the dawn attack.

“These bombs were intended for the military who the NPA expect to respond when they stormed the police office,” Vinluan said, adding that improvised bombs were found at a roadside leading to Green Hills where the Army based is located.

Despite the NPA atrocities in President Roxas and nearby communities, Vinluan said the government remained committed to welcome NPA guerillas who will opt to rejoin the mainstream society.

“My heart bleeds seeing Filipinos fighting Filipinos,” Vinluan said, stressing bloody incident can always be avoided.

“The government is open, the government is ready to accept returnees so they can live normal lives,” Vinluan stressed.

“I have said this before and I will say it again, we are here not to conquer but to sow the seed of peace with our brothers and sisters in the NPA movement,” he said.

Police and military authorities confirmed the attacks suffered five fatalities, one wounded in government custody and about 10 others carried away by retreating guerillas.

Pres. Roxas Mayor Jaime Mahimpit said the situation now in the Poblacion has returned to normalcy.

“We are now in control of the situation, I hope the rebels would think twice about creating atrocities in President Roxas,” Mahimpit said.

Military and police sources said villagers alerted the police authorities through its police hotline that three vehicles loaded with what looked like NPA guerillas were heading toward the town “very early in the morning.”

Vinluan said villagers who have been tired of forced taxation by communist guerillas helped repel the attempt by providing the necessary information to authorities.

President Roxas is a first class municipality in the province of Cotabato. Latest census showed it has a population of 45,042 people in 9,012 households.

Banana and rubber are the leading agriculture products and sources of livelihood of residents.

4 persons claiming to be NPAs rob bank employee

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): 4 persons claiming to be NPAs rob bank employee

Four armed persons claiming to be New People’s Army rebels robbed a bank worker while the latter was conducting a meeting with some of his clients on Tuesday morning at a seaside town in Surigao del Sur, ng police reports said Thursday.

Reports from Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office reaching the police regional headquarters here Thursday, said that a certain Jundy Dadivas Entong, 25; a resident of Purk 4, San Teodoro, Bunawan in Agusan del Sur and a Development Officer of the People’s Bank of Caraga, located in San Francisco town of the same province was robbed by four armed unidentified persons on Tuesday at about 10:20a.m. in Purok 1, Brgy. Liatimco, Lianga in Surigao del Sur.

Initial investigation conducted by Lianga Police disclosed that while the victim was conducting a meeting with some of his clients at the aforementioned place, the four persons were armed with two .45 Caliber pistols, a .38 Caliber revolver and an AK 47 suddenly showed up at their meeting place and allegedly announced: “Mga NPA Mi, Way Labot Ang Mga Sibilyan ( We are NPAs, Civilians Were Not Among Our Targets)”. They went on to take the victim’s identification card, his cellular phone, the key and motorcycle of Entong.

Thereafter, the suspects fired some shots on air several times then fled away from the area using the victim’s carnapped motorcycle heading towards Sitio La Union of the said village. Ongoing investigation was conducted by Lianga Police for the possible identification and apprehension of the suspects.

U.S., PHL troops build classrooms in Lapu-Lapu, Carcar cities

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): U.S., PHL troops build classrooms in Lapu-Lapu, Carcar cities

United States and Philippine troops are building classrooms in the cities of Lapu-Lapu and Carcar in Cebu which are targeted for completion before the opening of classes on June 2.

U.S. Air Force and Philippine Air Force (PAF) men are building a two-classroom school building in the Buyong Elementary School in Barangay Maribago, Lapu-Lapu City.

The U.S. Air Force is funding the project, which is being implemented by its 374th Civil Engineering Squadron.

About 30 members of the squadron, which is based in Japan, are constructing the two-room school building with the help of volunteers from PAF’s 560th Air Wing at the Benito Ebuen Mactan Base in Lapu-Lapu City.

On the other hand, the U.S. Navy, in partnership with the Philippine Navy’s Naval Forces Central (Navforcen) based in Lapu-Lapu City, will also build one classroom in Carcar City as part of the U.S. government’s support to the Philippines.

The Navforcen had already signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Navy 30th Naval Construction Regiment through Lt. Junior Grade Dylan Bush for the project.

The U.S. Navy will shoulder the cost of the construction of the classrooms in Valencia, Carcar City.

Lieutenant Kory Carpenter, the project in-charge from the U.S. Air Force, said their target is to complete the construction of the Lapu-Lapu City school building by May 28.

The groundbreaking for the school building project in Carcar City is set next week.

2 Philippine AW-109E 'Power' choppers deployed on maiden mission

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21): 2 Philippine AW-109E 'Power' choppers deployed on maiden mission

Two of the AgustaWestland AW-109E "Power" helicopters of the Philippine Fleet were deployed on their maiden mission Wednesday.

Lt. (JG) Rommel Rodriquez, Philippine Fleet spokesperson, said the send-off ceremony took place at the flight line of the Naval Air Group (NAG) headquarters in Sangley Point, Cavite City.

The NAG operates three AW-109Es, with two more armed versions, expected to be delivered before the end of year.

Since its acquisition from Italy last December, the pilots and crew of the helicopters with tail numbers, PNH-431 and PNH-432, underwent a continuous training program and had completed the required proficiency ratings necessary for their deployment to the operational areas.

The maiden flight was inaugurated by the Philippine Fleet head Rear Admiral Jaime S. Bernardino.

He said that the helicopters will support the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ operations to help protect the nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty by complementing its naval operating assets in the area.

He added that this will be the first time helicopters will be integrated afloat with the Philippine Navy’s capital ships, BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16).

Bernardino said, the pilots and crew have undergone rigorous training to meet an optimal condition of readiness for the air assets and are ready to undertake their mandated missions.

The pilots of PNH-431 are Lt. Cmdrs. Herbert June Dang-Awan and Leo Penacerada, while PNH-432 is piloted by Lt. Cmdrs. Rowene Colita and Ariel Joseph Coloma.

Two frigates undergoing bidding part of PN's minimum credible defense posture program

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): Two frigates undergoing bidding part of PN's minimum credible defense posture program

The two frigates, now undergoing bidding, is part of the Philippine Navy (PN)'s program which aims to provide the country with a minimum credible defense posture.

This was stressed by PN public affairs office chief Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic in an interview with the PNA.

"The two frigates seek to provide the PN, and in connection, the Philippine Fleet, with a capability to defend and protect the country's territorial waters.

He was referring to the two missile-armed frigates now undergoing bidding for Php 18 billion.

These ships are expected to be in service in 2017 once the bidding is completed.

These ships will be armed with a variety of sensors and weapons capable of detecting and neutralizing air, surface, and submarine threats.

The brand new frigates will also be capable of electronic warfare.

Aside from this, the frigates, according to their technical specifications, must be capable of performing of extended maritime patrol with an embarked naval helicopter and extended maritime surveillance capability through air-and-surface-search radar, and sound navigation and ranging (sonar) for sub-surface search.

He added that the ongoing acquisition process for the two frigates which will be armed and fitted a variety of air-to-air, anti-ship, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors, is part of the PN's envisioned force mix.

This includes six frigates for anti-air warfare, 12 corvettes for anti-submarine warfare, 18 offshore patrol vessels, three submarines, three anti-mine vessels, four sealift vessels, 18 landing craft utility vessels, three logistics ships, 12 coastal interdiction patrol boats, 30 patrol gunboats, and 42 multi-purpose assault crafts that can be equipped with torpedoes and missiles.

Also included in the envisioned force mix are eight amphibious maritime patrol aicraft, 18 naval helicopters, and eight multi-purpose helicopters.

The PN needs an estimated Php 497-billion to make this project a reality.

Earlier, PN spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said the country's presence in the West Philippine Sea will be boosted with the arrival of its more modern ships.

"With the two additional frigates plus one more Hamilton-class cutter in the pipeline, that will assure us of a 24/7 presence in the West Philippine Sea," Navy spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said.

Fort Bonifacio blast claims 3rd fatality

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): Fort Bonifacio blast claims 3rd fatality

The Philippine Army (PA) announced on Thursday that 1st Lt. Dinar Alosada, one of the severely injured victims in the fire and explosion that rocked the Explosive Ordnance Division (EOD) Battalion headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig last May 7, finally succumbed to her injuries Wednesday afternoon.

Alosada, who sustained third degree burns in 80 percent of her body, died at 3:39 p.m. at the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City, according to PA spokesperson Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato.

With Alosada's death, the number of people killed in the fire and ensuing explosion at the EOD headquarters last May 7 has climbed to three.

Thirty-two people were reported hurt in the incident.

First to die was Cpl. Bernabe Mota, who died of burn complications last May 9.

He was followed by M/Sgt. Ferdinand Rafal who died last May 13.

All of the fatalities sustained massive burn injuries.

Detoyato said all possible assistance will be extended to the families of the deceased soldiers.

Navy tankers to be equipped with defensive armaments

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): Navy tankers to be equipped with defensive armaments

The Philippine Navy (PN) announced that the three tankers, donated by the Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC), will be fitted with defensive armaments.

This was revealed by Navy public affairs office chief, Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic, in an interview with PNA.

"All Navy ships, regardless of their roles, are always fitted with defensive armaments to protect themselves against possible attacks by hostile forces. And in the case of the tankers, defensive armaments are needed as they are carrying and transporting very valuable cargo," he said in Filipino.

Fabic declined to state what weapons will be fitted to these ships for security reasons.

However, military sources said that .50-caliber heavy machine guns and 20-mm automatic cannons can be fitted aboard these ships.

Earlier, Fabic said that the PNOC-donated tankers are now undergoing dry-dock at a secured and undisclosed location.

The three tankers are currently unnamed. For the moment they are called "Tanker 1", "Tanker 2" and "Tanker 3".

Fabic said these vessels will be commissioned by June or July.

The donation of the tankers was made possible after the PNOC and PN signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) last March 26 at Naval Station Jose Andrada in Roxas Boulevard, Manila which formalized the donation of the vessels for naval service.

In addition, the PNOC Shipping and Transport Corporation (PSTC) is required by the MOA to assist the PN with the familiarization on the navigation systems of the tankers as well as its machinery.

The tankers are currently dry-docked by the PN to ensure that the hull, powerplant, electrical and other fixtures of the vessels are in good condition.

Catapang appointed as new AFP vice chief-of-staff

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): Catapang appointed as new AFP vice chief-of-staff

Northern Luzon Command head Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Thursday was formally appointed as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) vice chief-of-staff replacing Lt. Gen. Alan R. Luga who formally left the military after reaching mandatory retirement age last May 12.

Catapang is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1981. He is a classmate of AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.

Catapang headed the Nueva Ecija-based 7th Infantry Division before being appointed Northern Luzon Command in July 5, 2013.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, AFP public affairs office chief, said Catapang was instrumental in the normalization of most of Northern and Central Luzon during his term as Northern Luzon Command and 7th Infantry Division commander.

President Aquino is guest-of-honor in PN's 116th founding anniversary

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22): President Aquino is guest-of-honor in PN's 116th founding anniversary

The Philippine Navy (PN) announced Thursday that President Benigno S. Aquino III will be the guest-of-honor in its 116th founding anniversary which will be held at the Naval Station Carlito Cunanan, Barangay Macarascas, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan on May 27.

Also present are Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and PN flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Jesus Millan.

Sayyaf militant captured in Zamboanga del Norte

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (May 22): Sayyaf militant captured in Zamboanga del Norte

Government troops captured an Abu Sayyaf militant following a brief gun battle Thursday in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Norte, officials said.

Officials said Najil Ajijul, who uses several aliases, was captured in Tabayo village in Siocon town where he was collared during an escape attempt.

Troops also recovered a .45-caliber pistol from the militant, who was tracked down in the province following the arrest recently of another Abu Sayyaf bomber Nujir Ahidji in a village outside the military’s Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Zamboanga City.

The Western Mindanao Command is one of several military bases in southern Philippines where the US maintains a high-security facility under the command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines which is helping local troops fight terrorism.

Just recently, policemen also captured a 36-year old Abu Sayyaf militant, Harijin Jinny, in downtown Zamboanga while working as a security guard on a store just outside the police headquarters.

Last month, police commandos raided an Abu Sayyaf hideout in Zamboanga’s Santa Maria village and killed 2 militants and captured 6 others following a firefight that wounded one policeman.