Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rebel band beaten off in Quezon town

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): Rebel band beaten off in Quezon town
Troopers from the Tanay-based 2nd Infantry Division have successfully repelled a New People's Army (NPA) band while conducting security patrols in Sitio Tibig, Barangay Nasalaan, San Francisco, Quezon Sunday.

Major Arnold Gasalatan, 2nd Infantry Division spokesperson, said troopers from their 80th Infantry Battalion headed by 1st Lt. Arnel Palermo was responding to reports given by some concerned civilians regarding the presence of rebels in the above-mentioned area when the firefight erupted around 8:30 a.m.

He added that government troopers engaged for 20-minutes a rebel force consisting of 20 fighters.

Gasalatan stressed that the NPA force retreated after taking an undetermined number of casualties and left behind an M-16 automatic rifle, one IED (improvised explosive Device), assorted ammunition and subversivedocuments.

No casualties were reported on the government side even as pursuit operations were still ongoing.

AW-109Es extend range, reach of Filipino warships, PN spokesperson says

From the Philippine News Agency (May 26): AW-109Es extend range, reach of Filipino warships, PN spokesperson says

With the AgustaWestland AW-109E "Power" helicopters now in service, Philippine Navy spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said that these new planes can increase the range and reach of Filipino warships conducting maritime patrols.

The AW-109Es were deployed on their first mission on May 21 following their formal commissioning last Dec. 22.

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

They will be serving aboard the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), two of the PN's most modern and capable ships.

Arevalo said these helicopters can take off and land while their host vessels are underway.

"The AW-109Es will also be of great contribution to search-and-rescue operations during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, and of course to the morale of our sailors and marines," the PN spokesperson stressed.

The AW-109 "Power" helicopter is a three-ton class eight-seat helicopter powered by two Pratt and Whitney PW206C engines.

The spacious cabin is designed to be fitted with a number of modular equipment packages for quick and easy conversion between roles.

The aircraft’s safety features include a fully separated fuel system, dual hydraulic boost system, dual electrical systems and redundant lubrication and cooling systems for the main transmission and engines.

The AW-109 has established itself as the world’s best selling light-twin helicopter for maritime missions.

Its superior speed, capacity and productivity combined with reliability and ease of maintenance make it the most cost-effective maritime helicopter in its class.

For shipboard operations, the aircraft has a reinforced-wheeled landing gear and deck mooring points as well as extensive corrosion protection measures.

The ability to operate from small ships in high sea state enables the AW-109 to perform its mission when many others helicopters would be confined to the ship’s hangar.

Over 550 AW-109 "Power" and AW-109 light utility helicopters have been ordered for commercial, para-public and military applications by customers in almost 50 countries.

As Taiwan beefs up prized Spratlys outpost, barely a peep from China

From InterAksyon (May 26): As Taiwan beefs up prized Spratlys outpost, barely a peep from China

Taiwan is building a $100 million port next to an airstrip on the lone island it occupies in the disputed South China Sea, a move that is drawing hardly any flak from the most assertive player in the bitterly contested waters - China.

The reason, say military strategists, is that Itu Aba could one day be in China's hands should it ever take over Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province.

While Itu Aba, also called Tai Ping, is small, no other disputed island has such sophisticated facilities. Its runway is the biggest of only two in the Spratly archipelago that straddles the South China Sea, and the island has its own fresh water source.

"Taipei knows it is the only claimant that (China) will not bother, so it is free to upgrade its facilities on Tai Ping without fear of criticism from China," said Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the Hawaii-based East-West Center think tank.

"China would protect Taiwan's garrisons if necessary."

The upgraded facilities on Itu Aba should be finished late next year or earlier, officials from Taiwan's defense and transport ministries said, replacing an existing wharf that can only handle small vessels.

That would give Taiwan a port able to accommodate 3,000-ton naval frigates and coastguard cutters while improvements are being made to the 1,200-meter (3,940-foot) long runway for its Hercules C-130 transport planes, they told Reuters.

Officials said the new port was not just a demonstration of sovereignty but also a way to support a trade dependent economy while helping Taiwanese deep-sea fishermen and marine and mineral research in the area. About $5 trillion in ship-borne goods pass through the South China Sea every year.

Long history

China and Taiwan share claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, a legacy of the Chinese civil war when the Communists split from the Nationalists and eventually took control of the Chinese mainland in 1949. The Nationalists settled on Taiwan, and still claim to be the legitimate rulers of greater China.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei also claim parts of the potentially oil-rich South China Sea.

While China-Taiwan ties have warmed since Ma Ying-jeou was elected Taiwan president in 2008, there has been no political reconciliation or a lessening of military distrust. China has never ruled out force to bring Taiwan under its control.

But if conflict ever broke out in the Spratlys, analysts and military attaches believe China would seek to protect Itu Aba as its own, strongly aware of its strategic value.

The Spratlys are one of the main flashpoints in the South China Sea, where military fortifications belonging to all claimants but Brunei are dotted across some of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

China for example occupies eight shoals and reefs but its strategists have long bristled at Vietnam's two dozen holdings. Manila occupies eight reefs and islands and Malaysia seven. Incidents at sea in recent years, such as ships getting rammed or attempted blockades, have usually involved China against the Philippines or Vietnam.

Zhang Zhexin, a research fellow on Taiwan issues at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said Beijing would not have a problem with Taiwan developing Itu Aba.

"Taiwan itself is Chinese territory anyway," he said.

"How can we have a territorial dispute within our own country? Of course Taiwan is part of China, so that includes all parts of China, including Tai Ping Island."

Far from Taiwan

Chinese Nationalist forces took over Itu Aba in 1946 after Japan used it as a submarine base during World War Two. France had occupied the island before the war as part of its colonial rule over then-Indochina.

The island, administered by Taiwan's coastguard, is some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) southwest of Taiwan, out of range of its US-made F-16 warplanes. It lies between the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

Taiwanese coastguard personnel and soldiers are routinely stationed on Itu Aba, served by regular military transport flights and protected by coastal defense weapons.

Unlike Beijing, Taipei is low-key about asserting its claims in the South China Sea and does not deploy naval or civilian fleets to the outer limits of the so-called nine-dash line that Beijing displays on its official maps and which reaches deep into maritime Southeast Asia.

Taiwan has not trumpeted its upgrade to Itu Aba.

"We would never invade islands occupied by other nations, but we will actively defend our claims," said a spokesman for Lin Yu-fang, a legislator from Ma's ruling Kuomintang Party and a key backer of the port project.

The facility would provide services to any Taiwanese ships in the region, said Chen I-piao, acting chief engineer at the Taiwan Area National Expressway Administration Bureau, the unit responsible for building the wharf.

"Previously our vessels in the area had to liaise with other ships if they needed assistance. After the port is finished they'll be able to directly call at port."

Diplomatically isolated, Taiwan found itself in the international spotlight earlier this month when mobs attacked mostly Taiwanese factories in Vietnam, enraged by China's deployment of a giant oil rig in waters further north that are claimed by Hanoi. Many of the rioters mistook Taiwanese companies to be owned by mainland Chinese.
Scores of Vietnamese and Chinese ships continue to square off around the rig, placed between the Paracel islands occupied by China and the Vietnamese coast.

China the focus of regional protests

While Vietnam and the Philippines have protested plans by Taiwan to upgrade the wharf, the construction is generating much less heat than Beijing's muscle-flexing in the South China Sea.

Days after China deployed the oil rig to the Paracel chain, the Philippines accused Beijing of reclaiming land on a disputed reef in the Spratlys to build what would be its first airstrip in the South China Sea.

China has rejected a Philippine protest over the work on Johnson South Reef, saying it had the right to develop its territory.

Experts say any airstrip there would unlikely be a strategic game-changer because of the difficulty in building a workable runway on an atoll, unlike an island like Itu Aba.
And as Itu Aba is the largest island in the Spratlys and the only one with natural water supplies, legal experts say this could help any future formal claim to a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and any fish and oil within it.

Taiwan has not cooperated with China on the South China Sea despite the historical ties to each other's claims given the political mistrust between them, but also because of its need to maintain good relations with the United States, a vocal critic of Beijing's policies in the disputed waters.

For the most part, Taiwan has kept its head down, not wanting to upset China or claimants in Southeast Asia given its economic links to both.

At various times Taiwan has pushed to be involved in regional mechanisms to easing tensions but resistance from China means it plays no part in any efforts through the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"I think the major concern is US-Taiwan relations. The US government asked Taiwan not to move close to China on the South China Sea," said Song Yann-Huei, a South China Sea expert at Academia Sinica, a study center sponsored by the Taiwanese government.

FOR DEFENSE OF TERRITORY | PH Navy chief highlights need to further develop Ulugan Bay

From InterAksyon (May 25): FOR DEFENSE OF TERRITORY | PH Navy chief highlights need to further develop Ulugan Bay

Map from

Flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Jesus Millan on Sunday stressed the need to further develop the naval facility in Ulugan Bay, which faces the disputed Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). 

Alam ninyo naman ‘yong mandated roles natin [You know our mandated roles], protecting our sovereignty and territorial integrity. So we are just highlighting the need to develop further this facility," said the Philippine Navy chief.

He said the bay, 50 kilometers from Palawan's Puerto Princesa, has a "strategic importance."

"It’s a very good area where we can provide basic requirements of our units in the field,” Millan said.

Earlier, the Department of National Defense alloted P.5 billion for the development of Ulugan Bay. Once completed, the naval facility will house the large ships that the Philippines had acquired to defend its territory.

Travel time would be shorter from Ulugan Bay to Pagasa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

KIG is aggressively being claimed by China through its nine-dash line maritime declaration that infringes into the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones of the Philippines.

Non-PMAers allege disparity goes on

From the Manila Standard Today (May 26): Non-PMAers allege disparity goes on

The PNP Alumni Association led by retired Fire bureau chief Rosendo Dial and former chief supt. Tomas Rentoy said “nothing has happened” since Malacanang ordered the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police to ensure equitable promotions and assignments among the graduates of the Philippine Military Academy and Philippine National Police Academy.

They were joined by the Police Professional for Righteousness and Integrity Movement whose members are reserve military officers, and the Association of Police Officers through Lateral Entry in alleging that Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP Chief Alan Purisima have sat on their complaint of being “second class citizens” in the organization.

“Ang kanilang (Roxas and Purisima) pagtalima sa utos ng Pangulo ay tila puro ‘lip service’ lang, at walang bakas na may kaukulang aksyon silang ginawa upang masagot ang mga hinaing ng mga non-PMA officers sa PNP  (They just seem to be paying lip service to the President without showing any particular action on their part to act on our complaint as non-PMA officers in the PNP),” the group said in a statement.

“Puro pangako lang, kung mayroon man, ang kanilang ginawa (All that they do is make promises).”

According to Dial and Rentoy, Roxas has ordered Deputy Director General Felipe Rojas, chief for Administration, to update him on the movement of non-PMA officers.

“Since Secretary Roxas issued the directive to DDG Rojas, nothing has been heard,” they said. “When he met with the PNPAAI officers at his office at the DILG, he just gave instructions to Napolcom Commissioner Ed Escueta to adopt policies that would address the problem. But we have not also heard from Escueta,” they said.

Navy changes tactic, eyes more bases amid sea row

From the Manila Standard Today (May 26): Navy changes tactic, eyes more bases amid sea row

THE Navy will soon be repositioning its vessels in a strategic naval base in Palawan to help the troops securing the country’s sovereignty amid the tensions in the West Philippine Sea, an official said on Sunday.

The naval base on Oyster Bay and at the headquarters of the Naval Forces West, both on Ulugan Bay, will be in the spotlight when President Benigno Aquino III visits Palawan as the guest speaker during the Navy’s 116th anniversary on Tuesday, said Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, head of the Navy’s Civil Military Operations Group.

He said Aquino will visit Oyster Bay, the headquarters of the Naval Forces West and the piers being developed in the area.

Oyster Bay and the wharves in Naval Forces West will accommodate dozens of medium and large naval ships, and both are being developed fast to hasten the response time of troops during emergencies, Arevalo said.

“When fully developed, the bases will shorten the travel time of our vessels and minimize logistical expenditures,” he said.

The ships in Puerto Princesa City are the ones being deployed in the West Philippine Sea, but those have to travel several nautical miles  to reach the western side of the sea, consuming too much time and fuel.

But once Oyster Bay is finally converted into a modern naval base it will be able to accommodate destroyers and even cruiser ships.

Arevalo said the navy would also be putting up a repair and construction yard at the naval base.

“We will be able to save around 20,000 liters of diesel to our support vessels and shorten the travel time by around 32 hours in the deployment of ships to the West Philippine Sea,” Arevalo said.

The Philippine government recently proposed giving US troops access to Oyster Bay under the two countries’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

The repositioning of vessels in Palawan will boost the morale of the troops stationed there, particularly the Marines manning the grounded BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal, Arevalo said.

He said the main purpose of stationing vessels on Oyster Bay is to bring the Navy headquarters in Manila closer to the troops manning the command post in Palawan.

Edca a deterrent to war—Bautista

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 25): Edca a deterrent to war—Bautista

AFP chief: It’s creative way to counter threats

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) is a “creative way” for the Philippine government to improve deterrence and face challenges to national security with the help of an ally, the United States, according to Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.

“We want to avoid conflict, that is why we need to establish a credible deterrence. We don’t have the wherewithal to do that and so what is the practical solution for us? It is to leverage on our alliance. We only have one treaty ally, that is the US,” Bautista told the Inquirer in an interview at the military’s headquarters on Saturday.

“There are no [US military] bases here, so we have to find creative ways to allow us to undertake (Mutual Defense Treaty)-related activities but would still affirm the provisions of the Constitution. That is the Edca,” Bautista said.

The Edca could have been beneficial to the Philippines during the March 29 rotation of troops and resupply mission of the military to Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea, which the China Coast Guard tried to block, had the security pact been operational at that time.
What’s possible with Edca

Journalists saw US planes flying over the small government fisheries vessel used by the Philippine Navy for the crucial mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, the rusting naval ship manned by a small Marine garrison on the shoal.

Without confirming or denying help from the United States, Bautista said US planes usually seen in Philippine territory come from their base in Okinawa, Japan.

“When they get here, they can go around and fly for only a few minutes, then they should go back [to their base]. If they could land in Palawan and refuel there, can you imagine how much longer they can stay around? That is possible under the Edca,” Bautista said.

With the Edca, Bautista said there would be more joint activities between the Philippine and US militaries to “demonstrate the alliance is alive and credible.”

The Edca was hammered out for eight months by Filipino and American negotiators, and signed a few hours before US President Barack Obama arrived in Manila for a state visit on April 28.

Criticisms of the agreement range from its supposed unconstitutionality to being lopsided in favor of the Americans to surrendering the country’s sovereignty for allowing the United States to put up military bases in the guise of sharing space in select AFP camps.

Biggest benefit

Bautista, who is retiring on July 20, stands by the agreement, saying it should be understood in the context of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States.

“Our biggest benefit [from the Edca] is its strategic feature. The Edca is not a stand-alone agreement. It is [meant] to operationalize the MDT, which serves as a deterrence to any armed aggression,” Bautista said.

“How do we allow them (the United States) to help us during calamities [or an] invasion? How will they help us when we do not allow them to come here? How will they defend us if we don’t allow them to come here?” he said.

The agreement, Bautista said, would put the Americans “in a better position to defend us.”

“We want to increase the tempo, we want more exercises,” he said.

‘Deepened’ cooperation

The Edca is taken within Article 2 of the MDT, which states that the Philippines and the United States “separately and jointly by self-help and mutual aid will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”
The “deepened” defense cooperation would deal with the AFP’s “short-term capabilities gaps, [promote] long-term modernization and help maintain and develop additional maritime security, maritime domain awareness and humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities.”

Signed in 1951, the MDT is the bedrock of the military alliance between the two countries. The agreement binds them to a commitment to help each other when one comes under an external armed attack.

The treaty is a public and formal declaration of the two countries’ “unity and their common determination to defend themselves against external armed attack, so that no potential aggressor can be under the illusion that either of them stands alone in the Pacific area.”

Obama himself quoted this paragraph from the MDT when he addressed Filipino and American troops on April 29, declaring that the United States’ commitment to defend the Philippines was “ironclad.”

Fourth security deal

Bautista said the Edca was the fourth security agreement signed by the Philippines and the United States that facilitates the implementation of the MDT.

Before the Edca, there were the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) and the Military Assistance Agreement (MAA).

The VFA governs the status of US troops in the Philippines as well as deals with the two countries’ military cooperation against nontraditional security threats, such as terrorism and environmental disasters.

The MLSA provides for the logistical cooperation between the two militaries as they intensify their cooperation and ability to work together.

The 1947 MAA formalized the US commitment to assist in the development of the AFP. It also established the Joint US Military Assistance Group.

Faster disaster response

He said the agreement permits the US military to rotate troops and equipment in selected AFP bases for more frequent joint military activities, including dealing with traditional and nontraditional threats such as climate change.

Bautista said the US response to Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) in November last year could have been faster had there been US planes in AFP bases.

Although it has been signed, the Edca will be implemented only after the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) approves the activities proposed under the new agreement.

Bautista said the MDB-SEB, comprised of top Philippine and US defense and military officials, would meet in September or October.
He will have retired by then.

Indonesian leader Yudhoyono proposes joint sea patrols

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 25): Indonesian leader Yudhoyono proposes joint sea patrols

Buoyed by the new maritime boundary agreement with the Philippines, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has proposed that the two countries conduct joint naval patrols to combat poaching in the seas.

The landmark agreement demarcating both countries’ overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in the Mindanao, Celebes and Philippine seas offers new opportunities in fishing, maritime and security engagements for both countries, Malacañang said.

In his meeting with Mr. Aquino on Friday morning, Yudhoyono said he was instructing his minister for economic coordination “to prepare an outline for enhancing maritime cooperation,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

One major area of cooperation between the two archipelagic countries would be joint naval patrols to deter crimes such as poaching of protected wildlife—a constant concern in the West Philippine Sea.

Coloma said they could now move forward with maritime cooperation on fisheries and aquatic resource development, and prevention of maritime crimes like poaching since there were no “more pending issues” between the two countries.

At the state dinner later Friday, Yudhoyono said both countries should “seize the momentum from the historic achievement” to also boost cooperation in the maritime and ecotourism sectors.

“I am glad that our bilateral relations are indeed on the right track with plenty of room for further expansion,” he said in a toast to Mr. Aquino.
Coloma, who was present at the bilateral meeting, said the two leaders talked of possible joint patrols in the resource-rich seas between them.

“The good thing about it is that they’re now talking of joint patrols. So if one country has covered an area, the other country won’t have to cover that area anymore,” he said in an interview on Friday afternoon.

Such a scenario would be favorable for the Philippines which has limited naval assets, Coloma said.

“Naturally, they talked of the protection of aquatic wildlife because these seas are rich in resources,” he added.

In early May, Philippine authorities rounded up 11 Chinese fishermen for poaching turtles in the West Philippine Sea.

Boost trade security

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the pact with Indonesia would open opportunities for closer cooperation in preserving and protecting the rich marine environment in the area, as well as in boosting trade and maritime security.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) provides for a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone for the countries. The EEZs of the Philippines and Indonesia, however, overlapped in the Mindanao Sea and Celebes Sea and in the southern section of the Philippine Sea in the Pacific Ocean.

So from 1994 to 2014, the Philippines and Indonesia held a series of negotiations to delimit their EEZs and “embody the results of the negotiations in an agreement,” the DFA said.

Both Mr. Aquino and Yudhoyono hailed the agreement as a rules-based model for resolving maritime disputes without resorting to military might.
“Such an agreement shows to the region and the world that with strong determination, countries can resolve maritime disputes peacefully through negotiation. Hence, we reject the use of force to resolve any kind of outstanding border dispute,” Yudhoyono said at the state dinner.

Yudhoyono had spoken out against “gunboat diplomacy” in the South China Sea at the recent Asean summit.

China claims 90 percent of the 1.35-million square mile South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan claim parts of it.

Yudhoyono also pushed for the enhancement of ecotourism, trade and investments; stronger partnership in addressing vulnerability to natural disasters and in combatting terrorism and transnational crimes between the two countries; and a more active advocacy in protecting migrant workers.

AFP chief: PHL to remain ‘steadfast’ US ally

From the Business Mirror (May 25): AFP chief: PHL to remain ‘steadfast’ US ally

ARMED Forces Chief of Staff Emmanuel Bautista said on Sunday that the country would remain an ally of the United States, as he expressed hope that both countries would not hesitate to “collectively” act against any threats that threatens peace and security in the region.
The country is currently embroiled in a territorial dispute with China as a result of Beijing’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea and its occupation of the islets owned by the Philippines in the West Philippines Sea.
“The Philippines shall remain a proud ally and friend of the United States. And while mutually guided by the principles of a just international order and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, may we not hesitate to act in our collective capacity to meet any aggressors threatening to undermine international peace and security,” Bautista said.
The country’s top military chief issued his remarks during the US’s observance of the Memorial Day on Sunday, which in the country was marked by a gathering of Filipino and US officials at the American Cemetery and Memorial at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.
The event was led by US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg, US Pacific Command commander Adm. Samuel Locklear III and 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Forces-Japan commander Gen.John Wissler.
Recalling the sacrifices of Filipino and American troops who fought alongside in the country during World War II, Bautista hoped that the two forces would continue to work together and jointly face security challenge in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“May we ensure that our alliance remains responsive and modernized to address the challenges of the 21st century, and to maintain stability in the Southeast Asia and the greater Asia Pacific,” he said.
The Philippines and the US recently signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that will regularly bring a bigger force of American troops in the country, along with their equipment for their rotation.
Bautista said that even with the support of the US, the Philippines will remain a “responsible” member of the international community, and it will “always stand up” for its rights as a sovereign country.
During the event, Bautista also paid  homage to the bravery and heroism of US and Filipino troops during the last world war.
“These are the sons of two nations who bravely answered the call of duty to fight the war in defense of peace, and to die for our freedom. Now, we stand here where they are laid to rest, in this hallowed ground that is a testament to how peace and freedom are built upon heroism and utmost sacrifice,” he said.

‘Edca a magnet for war,’ says lawmaker

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 25): ‘Edca a magnet for war,’ says lawmaker

Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares . FILE PHOTO

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) will put the Philippines in the sights of the United States’ enemies, which is why it could not be a deterrent to war, according to Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares.

“On the contrary the Edca is a deterrent to peace and a magnet for war because all the enemies of the US will have the Philippines as one of its targets due to this deal,” Colmenares said in a statement, in reaction to the statements of Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.

Bautista earlier said the Edca was a creative way to establish deterrence and avoid conflict and face challenges to national security.

Bautista also defended the deal, saying it was meant to operationalize the country’s Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, “ which serves as a deterrence to any armed aggression.”

Under the Edca, US military forces would have access to and use of agreed locations in the Philippines, and could construct infrastructure. They could also preposition assets here.

Colmenares, whose group has been critical of Edca from the beginning, downplayed the advantages it was said to give the Philippines in terms of disaster assistance, military improvement, and protection against China’s aggressiveness in territorial disputes, saying these were “mostly overrated and hyped.”

“Disaster assistance and military modernization can be achieved without the Edca. Also, the primary government reason for the deal now which is to serve as deterrence to China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea is not sound because the US would not risk a war with China because its economy would collapse without China,” he said.

He noted that the US owes China $1.28 trillion and has a $579 billion trade with China.

He doubts the US would come to the Philippines’ side should tension between it and China escalate over territorial issues.

“All the US would do is posture that it would defend the Philippines but it will not. That is the hard and cold reality, so it is best that this lopsided deal be declared unconstitutional as early as possible so as to prevent any man-made disaster from hitting our country,” he said.

He also reiterated his earlier position that Edca was circumventing the Constitution and allowing the turning of the whole country into one big US military base.

Colmenares also decried that the administration has yet to issue to his group a certified true copy of the Edca. He said he suspects that this was meant to delay the filing of cases against it.

“We have requested for a copy since the Edca’s signing last April but both the Department of National Defense and the Department of Foreign Affairs are stonewalling on our request,” he said.

“But we will no longer wait because it is the sovereignty and interest of our whole country that is at stake. We hope that the Supreme Court will also take this view and take a nationalist stance,” he added.

General alarm: Battle brews over veterans' affairs

From GMA News (May 25): General alarm: Battle brews over veterans' affairs

The government-owned and controlled Veterans Federation of the Philippines is opposing a supposed attempt by the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office to take it over.

“PVAO has no authority to do that," retired brigadier general Rodrigo Gutang, who called the move alarming, told GMA News Online in a phone interview.

The VFP is the umbrella organization of all veterans' groups in the country and Gutang is the secretary of the Cavalier Association of Veterans, one of the VFP's member organizations.

Gutang likewise questioned the creation of the Veterans Affairs Management Division that is tasked with directly monitoring the activities and assets of the VFP.

“The government does not spend any money for VFP. We receive no appropriation from Congress. Hindi kailangan i-take over,” Gutang noted.

He added that Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin is using the new VFP constitution approved last year to confuse their members.

No takeover

Meanwhile, retired lieutenant general Ernesto Carolina, PVAO administrator, denied the reported takeover.

“[The takeover] is not true," Carolina said in a phone interview.

He explained that the Defense secretary is merely doing his job. "By law, VFP is under the supervision and control of the secretary of National Defense,” he explained.

He noted that the PVAO, specifically the Veterans Affairs Management Division, is an instrument that the DND uses to monitor the transactions of the VFP and check for abuse.

“Many, many years napabayaan. For more than 20 years, the same group of people manages the affairs,” Carolina said. Retired colonel Emmanuel De Ocampo has been president of the VFP since 1985.

Carolina pointed out that VAMD supervises the VFP's properties and resources in the stead of the the Defense secretary. “The supervision and management of current VFP officers were not able to create the optimum revenues,” Carolina opined.

Unregulated revenues?

Carolina said the PVAO is considering regulating the earnings of the VFP, particularly those coming from a sprawling 50-hectare prime property in Taguig City.

“They are earning marginally from the prime property in Taguig. They are not accounting [for] the money. 'Yung earnings, ginagawang budget nila,” Carolina said.

The VFP reportedly rakes in P130 million a year from renting out the Veterans Industrial Complex, with earnings going unchecked.

However, Gutang argued that the defense department already regulates VFP's annual budget. “The budget of the VFP is approved every year by the Department of National Defense before we can spend it. There is check and balance.” Gutang stressed.

Yet, according to Carolina, what prompted the PVAO to place the VFP under scrutiny is the group's lack of financial reports, biddings or budget approvals.

A Commission on Audit Report on VFP in 2012 indicated mismanagement and deficiencies in the group's accounting of funds.

"The balance of the Property, Plant and Equipment account amounting P174.4 million with a net book value of P168.9 million as of December 31, 2012 is of doubtful validity due to the absence of subsidiary ledgers, property cards, and sufficient documents to support the value of the building and condominium," the report read.

Around P75.1 million entered in VFP's books had deficiencies, while VFP officers and employees received higher salaries and allowances than allowed by law.

"Salaries and allowances of VFP Officers and Employees amounting to P5.75 million were not in accordance with RA 6758 or the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1999, and Compensation System of the DBM," the report read.

"There were significant lapses in the granting and settlement of cash advances," the Audit commission added.

Likewise, the COA report showed that VFP did not bid out the procurement of goods, a recurring expense totalling P10.27 million.

VFP reforms

To provide a solution for the mismanagement issues the VFP is facing, Carolina said the government had to implement reforms in the system, among those, the creation of the VAMD.

“To institute reforms [in the] VFP, it took so many years. They were not cooperative. There were many deficiencies noted in a COA report which covers 2010 to 2012,” Carolina said.

“It took us two years to craft by-laws. We presented it to the House committee on veterans affairs, in consultation with VFP and other veteran organizations. In October 2013, new by-laws were completed,” he said to answer Gutang's claims that there were no public consultations on the new VFP constitution.

According to Carolina, an election code for the VFP is expected to be completed by November this year to counter the "monopoly" by a handful of members in top positions.

There will also be an information campaign to encourage non-member veterans to join the VFP. Currently, only 30 percent of veterans – roughly 40,000 – have joined the VFP.

"[Reform] is normal in any organization na napapabayaan. Some people were benefiting from this wrong set up. They are [now] resisting," he said.

He said that without the reforms, "VFP does not represent the voice of the veterans."

Navy to mark anniversary in Palawan to show support for frontline troops

From GMA News (May 25): Navy to mark anniversary in Palawan to show support for frontline troops

A ceremony to mark the 116th anniversary of the Philippine Navy will be held at its base in Ulugan Bay in Palawan to demonstrate the support that frontline sailors have from Navy leadership, including President Benigno Aquino III, commander-in-chief.

Vice Admiral Jesus Millan, Navy chief, told reporters Sunday that the anniversary rites will be held at Naval Station Carlito Cunanan, headquarters of Naval Forces West, on Tuesday to highlight improvements to the base, which, he said has strategic importance.

He said developing the naval station will help sailors there perform their jobs – which includes securing the West Philippine Sea – better.

"Yung ating morale of the men is one big concern for me, which will redound to the better accomplishment of their mission," he said.

Colonel Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Navy's Civil Military Operations Group, said the celebration of the Navy's anniversary is usually held in either Manila or Cavite.

"Gusto nating ipakita sa ating personnel na binibigyan natin sila ng due attention," he said of the decision to do it in Palawan this year.

President Benigno Aquino III is expected to attend the ceremony, which, Arevalo said, will give the president the opportunity to meet the Navy's frontline sailors.

"Well, of course, other than...the boost it will bring to the morale of our personnel, [having] our commander-in-chief, no less, visiting them, ito rin ang opportnity for our be able to see kung ano ang mga developments na meron tayo sa bagong nilipatang headquarters ng Naval Forces West (NavForWest)," he said.

Strategic importance

Arevalo said Naval Station Carlito Cunanan has strategic importance because its location makes it easier for ships to reach far-flung areas in the West Philippine Sea.

"Kung manggagaling doon ang barko natin pappuntang Pagasa Island yung ating logistics support vessel, we will be able to save around 20,000 liters of diesel. Buhat maiiksihan ang travel time natin by around 32 hours, so, dun pa lang sa punto de bista na yun, kitang-kita na natin ang advantage," he said.

He said the old headquarters of NavForWest is on the eastern side of Palawan, which meant ships headed to the West Philippine Sea had to sail around Palawan island first.

PHOTO | Top PH military official attends US Memorial Day rites in Taguig

From InterAksyon (May 25): PHOTO | Top PH military official attends US Memorial Day rites in Taguig

Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines

Top Philippine military official General Emmanuel Bautista on Sunday attended the United States Memorial Day ceremony at the Manila American Cemetery in Taguig City.

Here, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff is seen shaking hand with the Commander of the United States Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III (left).

Memorial Day is a US federal holiday for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

The holiday, which is celebrated every year on the final Monday of May, was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.

By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.

Chinese fighters fly close to SDF planes above E. China Sea

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): Chinese fighters fly close to SDF planes above E. China Sea

Two Chinese fighters flew unusually close to Japanese Self-Defense Forces aircraft Saturday above the East China Sea where the countries' air defense identification zones overlap, drawing sharp criticism from Japan's defense minister.

It is the closest Chinese fighters have come to SDF aircraft, the Defense Ministry said, adding one of the Chinese fighters came within roughly 30 meters of an SDF plane.

The development is likely to fuel tensions between the two countries which have been at odds over Beijing's claim to Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea and conflicting perceptions of history.

Vietnam refutes China's false island claims as tensions continue to simmer

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): Vietnam refutes China's false island claims as tensions continue to simmer

Vietnam has reaffirmed its legal authority over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos, refuting various Chinese claims that historical accounts might suggest otherwise.

Speaking at an international press conference held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Saturday, Tran Duy Hai, deputy head of Vietnam's National Border Committee, said that a diplomatic note written by former North Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Van Dong in 1958 did not affect the sovereignty of the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos.

In 1958, China issued a declaration defining its territorial waters.

Dong, Democratic Republic of Vietnam's prime minister at the time, sent a diplomatic note to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.

The Chinese interpreted this as recognizing China's sovereignty over the two groups of islands, but Hai said yesterday that the note only recognized China's 12 nautical miles territorial waters at the time and instructed Vietnam's State agencies to respect that, but did not mention the Spratly and Paracel Islands, as they were not under the North's jurisdiction.

After the Geneva Conference on Restoring Peace in Indochina, July 21, 1954, Vietnam was divided and the two archipelagos were under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) which declared its rights over the islands and exercised the rights in practice.

He added that since the 17th century, Vietnam had exercised its sovereignty over the two archipelagos in a continuous and peaceful manner and according to international law.

Hai noted that at the San Francisco Conference held in 1951, 46 out of 51 nations attending objected to China's claim on the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

Also at this conference, a delegation from Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai declared Vietnam's sovereignty over the two islands and this did not meet any objections, Hai said.

When China used force to occupy Vietnam's Hoang Sa in 1974, the Republic of Vietnam and the then Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam both protested the move, Hai said, noting that the United Nations Charter and international law prohibit the use of force to violate the territory of other countries.

China's memorandum issued on May 12, 1988 -- an official document by the Chinese Foreign Ministry -- also clearly confirmed a basic principle of international law that "invasion does not produce sovereignty" over a territory, Hai stressed.

Regarding the present situation, Hai said Vietnam had consistently demanded China remove its oil rig and vessels.

He called on both sides to refrain from any military involvement.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, head of the International Law and Treaty Department under the foreign ministry, said as a member of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Vietnam had every right to take legal action against China in accordance with international law.

Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of the Vietnam Marine Police, said that three weeks after China put its oil rig in Vietnamese waters, Vietnam had still not taken any action that could escalate the situation.

Do Van Hau, general director of Petro Vietnam, also rejected China's claim on May 16 that Vietnam had 37 oil rigs set up in the disputed waters.

Hau said all drilling and exploratory activities by Petro Vietnam and its partners were conducted within the country's continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.

The United States has said it would back Hanoi in taking legal action against China to resolve the dispute.

China has illegally installed an oil rig in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

At a press conference in Washington on Thursday, White House spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said the US supported the use of peaceful measures to address the current tensions.

He said the US had a national interest in maintaining peace and stability in the region, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce -- and freedom of navigation and flight over the South China Sea (East Sea).

He said the US supported the use of diplomatic and other peaceful measures to solve the disagreement, including the use of arbitration or other international legal mechanisms.

The same day, Vietnamese scholars in the US said now was a suitable time for Vietnam to take the issue to an international court.

They said the nation must consult legal experts in order to establish firm legal grounds for the move.

Dr. Ngo Nhu Binh, Director of the Vietnamese Language Programme at Harvard University, told Vietnam News Agency in New York that experts in many countries did not accept China's claim of the nine-dot line around the East Sea.

Meanwhile, the Liaison Association for Overseas Vietnamese has issued a statement in the United States protesting against China's behavior.

It said China's action was extremely dangerous and gravely violated the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea to which China was a signatory.

The association added that this also ran counter to bilateral agreements reached by high-level officials in the two countries and threatened maritime security and safety in the East Sea.

It demanded that China remove its rig, armed ships and aircraft out of Vietnam's territory and called on it to respect bilateral and multilateral agreements on the East Sea.

The statement added that since the beginning of May, Vietnam had exercised utmost restraint, shown every gesture of goodwill and exhausted all dialogue channels to communicate with Chinese authorities.

Nevertheless China had not only failed to respond to Vietnam's demands, but had been slandering and blaming Vietnam while continuing to escalate the use of force and acts of violation in an increasingly dangerous and serious manner. (PNA/VNS)

101 SAF successfully finish UCRWC in NorCot

From the Philippine News Agency (May 24): 101 SAF successfully finish UCRWC in NorCot

A total of 101 Special Action Force (SAF) members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) have completed Urban Counter Revolutionary Warfare Course (UCRWC) – a 5-month training for SAF to make them a more potent force in serving and protecting the citizens.

Police Inspector Seth Mark Dugan Alob, UCRWC director, led the presentation of graduating SAF members to Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza and Supt. Danilo P. Peralta, police provincial director over the weekend at the Amas provincial police office compound.

The graduates who belong to UCRWC Class 74-2013 came from different provinces and were trained on the government’s counter-terrorism program and anti-insurgency campaign for a period of five to six months.

They were trained on Internal Security Operations, Waterborne Rescue, Police Intervention, Barangay Module, Operational Testing and Field Training Exercise, which they took up for four months and test mission held for one month.

Insp. Alob said that SAF must adapt to the changes that are needed by the prevailing times, thus its members are introduced in trainings and upgrading of skills.

“The course was designed to give the troopers combat capability in both rural and urban areas in response to calls for help in time of emergencies and crisis,” Alob also said.

Peralta said the new Commando Course aims not only to provide skills to SAF members but virtue as well, by developing their character through the fostering of discipline, righteousness, and respect.

Chief Supt. Noli Galsim Taliño, deputy director of the Special Action Force, responsible for the development and execution of the program of UCRWC, made the declaration of graduates during the graduation ceremony.

C/Supt. Taliño was a member of the PNP Contingent to the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in 1992 to 1993 and received the UN Peacekeeping Medal. He was also honored with the Presidential Merit Medal in 1998.

After being declared as UCRWC graduates, the SAF members were given the Authority to Wear Sure Shock Badge.

Gov. Mendoza again did the honors of the ceremonial pinning to the graduates with PCSUPT Taliño.

Gov. Mendoza said she cannot miss to be with the SAF UCRWC Class 74-2013 in their graduation.

She said there was a distressing incident in President Roxas early dawn where a large number of suspected New People’s Army (NPA) attack the town’s police station and that the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management is conducting a summit for three days but she knew the importance of the occasion.

“The PNP SAF is a strong partner of the provincial government in maintaining peace and order and in the attainment of development. We have common goals and in the process we face the same obstacles and it is imperative for us to be partners along the way,” Mendoza told the graduates.

She further said that age may already has caught up with many uniformed men in the province including SAF but their commitment to serve and protect the constituents remain burning in their hearts.

“The SAF, along with other uniformed men are our front liners in keeping the peaceful condition of our province,” she said, adding that adding that SAF and the authorities always uphold the supremacy of civilians.

4 “NPA” rebels killed, soldier wounded in weekend clash in Tanjay, Negros Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): 4 “NPA” rebels killed, soldier wounded in weekend clash in Tanjay, Negros Oriental

A Philippine Army soldier was wounded while four suspected members of the rebel New People’s Army (NPA), one of them a “ranking leader”, were reported killed in fresh encounters in the hinterlands of Tanjay City, Negros Oriental Saturday.

Also, two alleged NPA members surrendered to authorities following the clashes in Sitio Pitawa, Barangay Sto. Niño in Tanjay City on Saturday afternoon, an initial report from the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Sunday.

Early reports from the PNP said that around 4 o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, one section of combined elements of the 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion and 79th IB led by Capt. Lusaylo Lunas and 1Lt. Aranas, respectively, encountered 24 fully armed men, believed members of the NPA’s South East Front of the Komiteng Rehiyon-Negros (SEF-KRN) at the sub-village of Pitawa.

The armed group was allegedly led by Romero Nabas alias Gildo, the police report said. The firefight lasted for several minutes before the suspected rebels withdrew.

About 45 minutes later, while on blocking position, another section from Alpha Company of the 79th IB led by 1Lt. Ronnie Sarmiento encountered the same group of armed men, which resulted in the surrender of two suspected NPA members, one of whom was wounded on the right foot.

The wounded-in-action soldier was identified as Cpl. Milbert Dapilaga of the 79th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Siaton, Negros Oriental.

He was rushed to the Holy Child Hospital in Dumaguete City after a bullet was embedded on his leg, disclosed Brig. Gen. Francisco Patrimonio, commander of the 302nd Infantry Brigade and the mother unit of all Philippine Army units in Negros Oriental.

The Army troopers launched hot pursuit operations against the fleeing “rebels” and on Sunday morning, while scouring the vicinity of the encounter site, they found four dead persons believed to be suspected NPA members.

One of the four casualties was identified as Diosdado Aming Dacal-dacal alias Gim, squad leader of Platoon Sentro de Gravidad of the SEF-KRN, while the three other male casualties remain unidentified, disclosed Lt. Erick Wynmer Calulot, acting Civil Military Operations Officer of the 79th IB.

One M-16 armalite rifle was also recovered from the encounter site, believed to be that of the alleged NPA group.

Lt. Col. Harold Pascua, acting commanding officer of the 79th IB, said the weekend encounters in Sto. Niño, Tanjay City was initiated by the 302nd Brigade.

The clashes came on the heels of the recent declaration of Negros Oriental by government authorities as conflict-manageable and development-ready, a term used in relation to the insurgency problem in the province which the military said has been reduced to an insignificant level.

Last April 3, government forces and suspected NPA members also engaged in a series of firefights in Sto. Niño, Tanjay City which led to the evacuation of residents in the area to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

As of Sunday, Army soldiers continued with their operations in search of the alleged NPA group, Calulot said.

4 rebels killed in series of encounters in Negros Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): 4 rebels killed in series of encounters in Negros Oriental

Four New People's Army (NPA) fighters were killed following a series of encounters with troopers of the 79th Infantry Battalion in Sitio Pitawa, Brgy Sto. Niño, Tanjay City, Negros Oriental Saturday afternoon.

In the same incident, two rebel fighters also surrendered to the military.

The series of clashes started 4 p.m. as 79th Infantry Battalion troopers were conducting routine security patrols in said locality when fired upon by an estimated 24 rebels.

A 35-minute gun-battle ensued resulting in the rebels fleeing.

Pursuing government troops encountered the NPAs around 4:45 p.m., triggering another 20-minute firefight.

In the two encounters, four rebels were killed while one government trooper was wounded.

Two of the slain NPAs were identified as Diosdado Dacal-dacal, Squad Leader of Sentro De Grabidad (SDG) Platoon, Southeast Front, KR-Negros (SEF, KR-N) and Felix Yanoc.

The identities of the other two dead rebels are still being determined as of this report while the identities of the two surrendered rebels are being held for reasons of security.

One of them was wounded in the right foot which was immediately treated by 79th Infantry Battalion medical staff.

They were treated humanely and apprised of their constitutional rights.

Recovered from the NPAs were a M-16 automatic rifle; one Kenwood handheld radio, bandoleer, subversive documents of high intelligence value, food stuffs and personal belongings.

Lt. Col. Harold Anthony Pascua, 79th Infantry Battalion commander, expressed his sympathies to the families of the slain rebels.

“We call on those rebels to come out, lay down their arms peacefully and be given proper medical attention. We assure them that their human rights will be respected,” he added.

PAF badly needs new supersonic jet fighters (Last of a two-part Special Report)

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): PAF badly needs new supersonic jet fighters (Last of a two-part Special Report)

From 1947 to date, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) had a total inventory of 1,028 aircraft composed of 251 fighter planes or equivalent to 20 squadrons, 203 transports, 372 trainer aircraft and 202 helicopters of various types, making the PAF a force to be reckoned with.

Over the years, however, the PAF had decommissioned all its jet fighter-interceptors, the last one in 2005 with the retirement of its F-5A/B war jet without any replacement, leaving the country’s airspace virtually defenseless without a single jet interceptor in its arsenal.

Today, the PAF has more or less 100 to 150 aircraft of various types, but without a single jet fighter to protect the country’s airspace and territorial waters, particularly the West Philippine Sea where China has laid claim.

If the PAF has modern jet fighters, it would have prevented Chinese vessels from entering into the Panatag Shoal which is well within the Philippine waters.

“The once proud and strong Air Force has become an ill-equipped and struggling Air Force,” said Brig. Gen. Raul L. del Rosario, wing commander of the PAF Air Defense Wing.

From being number one Air Force in Asia in the 1950s until the 1970s, the Philippines has been surpassed by Bangladesh which has a much lower gross domestic product (GDP) but with 77 multi-role fighters.

At its peak as Asia’s number one Air Force, the PAF had various types of aircraft, majority of which were grants from the United States such as the P-51, F-86, F-5, F-8, T-28, UH1H “Huey” helicopters as payments in return for the use of American bases in the Philippines until 1991 when the bases agreement ended.

Most of these aircraft were hand-me-downs from the U.S. That means the spare parts were supplied by the U.S.

When the Philippine Senate voted not to extend the RP-US bases agreement, the Americans left, so did the U.S. support for the PAF air power suffered a big blow.

There were other factors that stagnated the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly the Air Force and Navy the past four decades.

The most telling problem that caused the snail-paced modernization program of the AFP was the shift of its focus from external defense upgrade to internal security operations.

For the Air Force and the Navy, with the latter also suffering from decrepit warships, it was disheartening that their defense capability has shrunk the past several years at a time when the nation is faced with an enormous security challenges.

After 47 years, insurgency is still hounding the country and aggravating the conditions are the natural calamities that plague the Philippines year in and year out such as the 7.2-magnitude Bohol earthquake and super typhoon "Yolanda" (international name: Haiyan) last year.

In 1995, Congress passed the AFP Modernization Law with an allocation of P331 billion.

But unfortunately, the modernization was not implemented fully, with only P30 billion spent for the procurement of military hardware during the past 15 years.

The modernization program also suffered a blow during the 1997 Asian monetary crisis when the dollar-peso rate ballooned to as much as P56.

Be that as it may, there is an urgent need for the AFP to have a credible air defense capability to preserve the country’s sovereignty.

The Aquino administration is fast-tracking the AFP modernization program. In the pipeline are surface attack aircraft and long-range patrol planes, medium-lift aircraft, helicopters, and new radars.

Indeed, defense buildup is very expensive but that is the price to pay to secure the country’s airspace and territorial waters from foreign intrusion.

The Philippines, the second largest archipelagic country in the world with 7,107 islands (the largest is Indonesia with over 13,000 islands) and a coastline of 35,289 kilometers, twice as long as that of the United States, needs a credible defense capability.

With no jet fighter left in the arsenal of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) since 2005, there is no way the Air Force can intercept any foreign aircraft intruding into Philippine airspace.

Adding to the security problem is that the Philippines has a limited radar capability.

The once mighty Philippine Navy (PN) is also suffering an acute shortage of ships.

As a consequence, border crossing violations in southern Philippines remain rampant.

It is common knowledge that foreign vessels are barely challenged coming in and out of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), like the Chinese intrusion in the West Philippine Sea from time to time.

Based on statistics from the Department of Energy, the country is losing P7.1 billion per year through poaching, P19.4 billion per year from destruction of the corals and illegal fishing, a staggering P26.5 billion annually.

Worse is the current situation in the West Philippine Sea and Scarborough Shoal, where the country’s resources and sovereignty as a nation are threatened.

Another area of contention is the Spratly islands, including the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), where there is an enormous amount of untapped hydrocarbon deposits estimated at USD 26.3 trillion and 16.7 billion cubic feet of gas worth USD 46 billion.

Aside from the Philippines, Spratly islands are also claimed in whole or in part by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

With the Philippines lagging far behind in defense modernization, there is a need for the PAF to jump-start its air defense system.

Considering the billions of pesos needed to modernize the AFP, it is easier said than done but ultimately, at the end of the day, all these efforts will go to waste without the support of all stakeholders, in particular the executive and legislative branches of government.

The big challenge is rebuilding the much-needed air power capability of the PAF now, not later, to regain its glorious days of old truly as the country’s first line of defense that can be depended upon.

Air power is vital to national interest(First of a two-part Special Report)

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): Air power is vital to national interest(First of a two-part Special Report)

Time was when the Philippine Air Force (PAF) was the cutting edge as the country’s first line of defense -- second to none in air superiority in Asia, except Japan.

That time capsule when the PAF was at its peak was from 1950 to early 1970s, when the Air Force had a strong air defense system complete with air defense alert centers in Basa Air Base in Pampanga and Palawan guarding the Western Philippine Sea.

During those golden years of the Air Force, an array of sophisticated jet fighter interceptors were standing-by on alert, day and night, all-year-round, ready to take-off at any moment’s notice to intercept and challenge any foreign aircraft or ship picked up by radar intruding into Philippine airspace or territorial waters.

The PAF jet fighters were armed to the teeth with air-to-air and air-to-ground guided missiles, .20mm cannons and .50 caliber machine guns and capable of scrambling into the air in a matter of minutes.

Regrettably, however, through the years, the once formidable PAF had weakened until without a single jet fighter remaining in its arsenal to challenge unauthorized planes entering the country’s sky.

The sorry state of the Air Force can be traced to the procrastination by the government to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to keep in pace with time while other military forces in neighboring countries have long modernized their defense capability.

The PAF was left behind. Its vaunted air power superiority was gone.

There has been a joke going around that the “Philippine Air Force is all air but no force.” It is hurting to hear but as the saying goes, truth hurts.

Today, veteran PAF fighter pilots just could reminisce the days of old when they proudly flew the supersonic jets to intercept intruding planes or during acrobatic maneuvers by the famed Blue Diamonds.

A strong Air Force is an instrument of national power.

During those golden years, PAF jet fighter pilots participated and won air-to-ground gunnery competitions against United States pilots in many occasions.

PAF records show that the Philippines sent an expeditionary squadron of F-86 Sabre jets to Congo, Africa many years ago because PAF was practically number one in Asia in terms of air power.

Today, while the Air Force acquired recently eight brand-new helicopters from Poland and there is a pending order of a squadron of F-50 jet fighter-trainers from South Korea, the delivery of which will be in the next three years, it is still lacking the firepower of a real to goodness jet fighters such as the F-16 from the U.S., the Grippen from Sweden and similar aircraft to guard the country’s airspace and territorial waters. (To be concluded)

Heroism, sacrifice needed for peace and freedom - AFP chief

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): Heroism, sacrifice needed for peace and freedom - AFP chief

Peace and freedom are built upon heroism and sacrifice, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said Sunday as he graced US Memorial Day activities at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

"Over seven decades ago, from the battles of Bataan and Corregidor to the victory in the Leyte Gulf, American and Filipino troops fought shoulder to shoulder, to liberate the Philippines and to end the world war. These are the sons of two nations who bravely answered the call to duty to fight the war in defense of peace, and to die for our freedom," he said.

Bautista added, "Now, we stand here where they are laid to rest, in this hallowed ground that is a testament to how peace and freedom are built upon heroism and utmost sacrifice."

The AFP chief of staff also said that the event, which was attended by ranking US military and diplomatic officials, aims to honor heroes who fell in defense of peace and freedom, and to reaffirm the ideals that they stood for.

Present in Sunday's activities were 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.

"On this Memorial Day, may we remember our heroes, known and unknown, past and present. Let us never forget the heroes of Bataan, the heroes of Corregidor, the heroes of Leyte, our veterans, and what they have done for us. This is also the time for us to reflect and be reminded of our obligation to be worthy of their sacrifices. Because that is the only way to honor our heroes - by ensuring that the peace and freedom that they won, are protected. And the values that they have taught us of honor, service, and patriotism, are passed on to the next generations," General Bautista pointed out.

He also took this opportunity to stressed that the AFP, despite material and equipment shortages, remain committed to winning just and lasting peace.

" We will always stand up for our rights as a sovereign country. And in the Filipino spirit of 'Bayanihan', we will remain as a responsible member of the international community," Bautista emphasized.

The AFP chief also said that the Philippines shall remain a proud ally and friend of the United States.

"And while mutually guided by the principles of a just international order and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, may we not hesitate to act in our collective capacity to meet any aggressors threatening to undermine international peace and security; shoulder to shoulder, just as our forefathers had done. May we ensure that our alliance remains responsive and modernized to address the challenges of the 21st century, and to maintain stability in the Southeast Asia and the greater Asia Pacific," he revealed.

Memorial Day is a US federal holiday wherein the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces are remembered.

The holiday, was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.

By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.