Friday, June 27, 2014

Davao on alert following Aquino’s ‘intelligence’ tip

From the Business Mirror (Jun 27): Davao on alert following Aquino’s ‘intelligence’ tip

DAVAO CITY—Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the city’s police and called on the military to impose a higher level of alert in the city as President Aquino relayed intelligence information on the presence of international terrorists in Mindanao.
Duterte hastily convened a command conference on Thursday night at the Grand Men Seng Hotel after a telephone call from the President, who instructed him to ensure the safety of the people.
“Do not take it lightly,” Duterte quoted President Aquino, who phoned him at about 5 p.m. on Thursday. The mayor echoed the same to police officers, military commanders and concerned agencies, saying “coming from the President, it is a serious matter.”
While there was no specific detail provided to him, Duterte said he wants everybody to do more to ensure that the city remains peaceful and safe.
Duterte said the government is pursuing “persons of interest” or people on the radar of the government security forces. Duterte expects more mobile checkpoints and the enforcement of stricter checks at entry and exit points of the city.
“I task everybody to cooperate,” Duterte said.

EDCA will pass constitutional test - US ambassador

From InterAksyon (Jun 27): EDCA will pass constitutional test - US ambassador

Notwithstanding challenges before the Supreme Court, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg is confident the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and his country will stand legal and constitutional scrutiny.

Speaking before the Philippine Constitution Association Thursday evening, Goldberg said the agreement was carefully crafted to ensure it would be "mutually beneficial" to the Philippines and the United States, and that it would meet the stipulations of the Constitution.”

"The reason it took eight months and eight rounds of formal and informal negotiations is because we have a concern in issues regarding sovereignty in the Philippines," he said. "We wanted to make sure that it would meet the constitutional requisites, to make sure that it would hold up to scrutiny, legally and politically."

He stressed that the new pact is based on the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement, which have been long in place.

He also disputed notions that the EDCA would lead to new military bases, saying the agreement only allows the increased presence of US troops in the country on a rotational basis, which he said is in line with his country’s “re-balance to Asia” and a recognition of the "importance of the Asia Pacific region to the US."

"The re-balance is a recognition that Asia is a growing economy ... there is the security element and that security element is important as an overlay for the economic side of the re-balance," he said.

Leyte Representative Martin Romualdez, who is also Philconsa president, said his group is still firming up its position on the EDCA, although he hinted at what that might be.

"Anything that goes for securing the country will supersede any other technical ‎and legal infirmities that it may seemingly pose. The ultimate goal of the Constitution is to secure the nation, anything that lends itself to that, we are quite supportive of," he said.

The EDCA was signed by Goldberg and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on April 28, just before US President Barack Obama arrived for a visit.

The government claims the pact presents a way to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines through more joint military exercises.

There are two petitions against EDCA before the Supreme Court.

One was filed by former senators Rene AV Saguisag and Wigberto Tanada, whow ere among the so-called “Magnificent 12” senators who, in 1991, voted to end the US-Philippines Bases Treaty.

Saguisag and Tanada were joined in the first petition by former University of the Philippines President Dr. Francisco “Dodong” Nemenzo Jr, former UP College of Law dean Pacifico Agabin, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, Atty. Steve Salonga (s)on of former Senate President Jovito Salonga, lawyers Harry Roque, Evalyn Ursua, and Edre Olalia, Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, Dr. Roland Simbulan, and former Bayan Muna Rep.Teddy Casino.

The other petition was filed by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, which has staunchly opposed any foreign military presence in the country and was also in the forefront of the campaign to kick out the former US bases.

PHL, US start naval drills near disputed waters

From GMA News (Jun 27): PHL, US start naval drills near disputed waters

The United States and the Philippines kicked off joint naval exercises Thursday in the South China Sea near waters claimed by Beijing, amid tense territorial rows between China and its neighbors.

Filipino military officials said the week-long maneuvers, involving three US warships and more than a thousand servicemen, would address Manila's "capability gaps" as well as testing its newest military vessels.
The Philippines is engaged in a bitter territorial dispute with China over parts of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.
China has increasingly asserted its claims to the sea, which are believed to harbour vast oil and gas deposits, and parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Beijing placed an oil rig in disputed waters last month, sparking deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam.
Philippine officers said the annual war games, involving more than a thousand US personnel and about 400 Filipino counterparts, would test the Philippines' two newest warships – a pair of decommissioned US coastguard cutters that were reconfigured into frigates.
"We committed two of our relatively new ships to participate in this exercise because we really wanted these ships to become proficient in what they do," fleet commander Jaime Bernardino told reporters.
"We wanted them to become proficient in firing their guns and all the things they do on the ground."
He added that the Philippines' territorial waters are "very porous" to foreign vessels.
"These are the gaps that we would like to address – make sure we detect (foreign vessels) properly, we intercept them and we neutralise them if necessary."
But he added that simulated boardings being carried out as part of the exercises have not been planned with any specific country in mind.
Two warships were docked at Subic Bay for the drills – a few hours' sailing distance from Scarborough Shoal, a South China Sea outcrop that was effectively taken over by China after a tense stand-off with the Philippines in 2012.
Rear Admiral Stuart Munch, commander of a Pacific-theater US submarine force, said the annual exercises were "designed to improve our inter-operability and build our relationship," so that the two navies can support each other better in more complex operations.
Manila, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, has been increasingly turning to its main defence ally Washington to back it up against China.
It recently signed a new defence accord with its former colonial power giving US forces greater access to Filipino bases.
Although the United States has taken no side in the territorial disputes, it has warned China against taking "destabilising actions" in the South China Sea. 

U.S.-PHL naval exercise not connected to any regional issue

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): U.S.-PHL naval exercise not connected to any regional issue

Top naval officers of the Philippines and the United States said the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise the two countries opened has nothing to do with the territorial rift the Philippines and China are into.

“This is just training exercise to be prepared for any contingency and not connected to any regional issue,” said Rear Admiral Jaime Bernardino, Philippine Fleet commander of the Philippine Navy.

“With this exercise with the United States Navy, we are kind of prepare to respond to emergencies like what happened in Tacloban City,” he said.

Bernardino led the formal opening of CARAT Thursday on board BRP Ramon Alcaraz docked at the Rivera wharf inside the Subic Bay Freeport.

“The United States Navy is a global navy that operates in international waters and we have been doing this exercise with the Philippine Navy since 1995,” said Rear Admiral Stuart Munsch, Task Force 74 commander of the USN.

Bernardino said their actions are dictated by the national leaders.

“What they wanted us to do, we will abide,” he said.

He said they have committed to the exercise two relatively new ships and two helicopters to enhance its capabilities.

“We are configuring BRP Alcaraz to improve its capability to be able to detect aircrafts, submarines and other surface assets. On the two helicopters acquired last year, we wanted it to become multi-role helicopters,” Bernardino added.

PHL-Indonesia strengthen intelligence and border cooperation against terrorists

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): PHL-Indonesia strengthen intelligence and border cooperation against terrorists

The governments of the Philippines-Republic of Indonesia (RP-RI) Border Committee are strengthening intelligence cooperation in addressing border issues against smugglers, sea pirates, human traffickers, among others, but admitted there remains a potential danger in detecting the entry and exit of terrorists through other points.

“Terrorists are clever and smart,” Indonesian Consulate General Eko Hartono said in a press conference after the June 25 Border Crossing Committee meeting at the Waterfront Insular Hotel here.

Hartono emphasized that suspected terrorists do not go through the regular border crossing stations in both the Philippines and Indonesia like in Bongao, Caraga, Tibanban, Maruri and Miangas.

He added that it is even difficult to capture them because they unlikely use big boats but small motorboats to hide their identities. And, “they are smart to mingle with the communities,” he said.

Hartono said terrorists go through alternative path to slip out or into the respective Indonesian and Philippine territories without being detected by authorities. He admitted that it is difficult to effectively monitor them to ensure that they do not bring in guns and ammunition.

However, he said the commitment of both governments detailed in the border crossing agreement like strengthening of intelligence cooperation and patrol will help detect movement of terrorists and criminals in the sea.

Hartono also recommended the optimization of all border crossing stations to improve ability to detect movement of terrorists.

Hartono and Commodore Joel Dela Cruz, Vice-Chairman Philippine Border Committee and Commander, Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao, however ,noted they already achieved some results in the border crossing agreement.

In particular, Cruz said the sharing of intelligence information is working. In fact, they were able to monitor movement of the members of the Jemaah Islamiya (JI), an Indonesia-based clandestine terrorist network formed in the early 1990s, entering Central Mindanao from Indonesia.

Hartono said it was also in the context of the border crossing agreement that they were able to detect terrorists such as the perpetrators of the Bali bombing. He said that sometime in 2008 and 2001 they were able to detect movements of the “big guys” who were using the routes to slip into the Philippines transiting to Mindanao.

Cruz said they have been reviewing protocols and how to operationalize the protocols to help monitor movement of the citizens of both countries. He said they have been conducting border patrol operation at the common border areas; intelligence monitoring operations.

In their meeting, the Border Crossing committee further strengthened mutual commitment for a peaceful resolution of issues arising at the border of the two neighboring countries.

Among the items tackled were the Joint RP-RI search and rescue operations at the border seas; Information sharing between the Philippine Navy Naval Operations Center and Indonesian Navy Command Control Center and between the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao Operations Center and the Eastern Fleet Command of the Indonesian Navy; Expansion of activities during coordinated patrol (Philippines-Indonesia) such as Humanitarian Assistance Disaster and Relief (HADR) assistance.

They also reviewed the standard operating procedure such as on mandatory equipment onboard vessels crossing the border seas like advising border crossers to pass through border crossing stations prior to their final destination; optimizing personnel in border post to minimize undocumented border crossers; and use of aircraft in border patrol.

The Philippines-Indonesia Border Crossing System was designed to regulate the movement of the inhabitants within the border areas in order to prevent violation of laws of both countries.

The meeting was attended by Hartono, Cruz, members of the Unified Staff and concerned government officials, Philippine Consul Jose Burgos, Vice Chairman of the Republic of Indonesia Border Committee Commander of Naval Main Based in Manado Laksma (Commodore) TNI Raja Morni Harahap, and military officers and concerned Indonesian government officials.

The Philippines and Indonesia are both signatories of the United Nations on the Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) which later created the Regional Fisheries Management Organization and thereafter created the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission aimed of developing resolutions, conservation and management measures relating to fishing operations in the high seas at the Pacific Ocean.

Mayor hopes for soonest completion of PAMANA road project leading to remote town in Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): Mayor hopes for soonest completion of PAMANA road project leading to remote town in Samar

Mayor Ananias Rebato is looking forward to the soonest completion of the road project leading to San Jose de Buan, Samar which he claimed could help boost development.

“The completion of the road will help in transporting our farm products to Catbalogan easier and will even enhance the delivery of our health services,” said Rebato.

The PAMANA (Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan) project is being implemented by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in San Juan de Buan, a town considered as conflict-affected area.

This 4th class municipality is situated within the tri-boundary of the three provinces of Samar Island. The poor road condition makes going to the area very difficult.

It is around 36 kilometers from the junction of Lokilokon village of Paranas town but travel time takes around three hours.

From the said junction where the project starts, around eight kilometers have already been cemented. It’s a long wait as the target completion is still in 2016, the mayor said.

The bad condition of the road affected the transportation of construction materials causing the delay of project, said Rebato.

“No matter how good the project is if we don’t have good road will mean nothing because it will not only delay the implementation of the project but will also affect the people who are the end user,” Rebato stressed.

PAMANA released P100 million for the project in 2013. Another P100 million is expected to be released this year for the continuation of the project.

Modern PN assets participating in CARAT 2014

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): Modern PN assets participating in CARAT 2014

Only the most modern and up-to-date Philippine Navy (PN) ships and aircraft are participating in this year's CARAT exercises which is now ongoing off the Zambales coast.

CARAT refers to "Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training".

Lt. (JG) Rommel Rodriquez, Philippine Fleet spokesperson, said the Filipino contingent in the five-day naval maneuvers are the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) which was acquired in May 22, 2012 and commissioned in Nov. 22 of last year, BRP Emilio Jacinto (PS-35), which was acquired and commissioned in August 1997 and two AgustaWestland AW-109E "Power" helicopters which were commissioned into PN service last Dec. 20.

Both Filipino ships are also armed with the Oto Melara 76mmm automatic cannon which is considered one of the best weapons of its class as it can engage both surface and air targets within a range of 20 nautical miles.

He added that it will the first time that these modern fleet assets will be working together in a joint naval exercise with foreign naval ships.

Aside from these, one Norman Britten Islander aircraft, one Naval Special Operations Group explosive ordnance unit, three diving teams, two special boat teams, two Marine companies, communication team, band, logistic and Seabees units will be participating in CARAT 2014.

The American contingent for CARAT 2014 consists of the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56), the USS Ashland (LSD-48), a Whidbey Island-class docking landing ship, USS Safeguard (ARS-50), a Safeguard-class rescue vessel, are the other three American ships present in the activity.

Also in tow are two landing craft air cushion, underwater demolition teams, Seabees, a mobile diving salvage unit, explosive ordnance division unit, and company sized amphibious assault vehicles.

CARAT 2014 officially started during simple ceremonies aboard the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, which was docked off Subic Bay's Alava Pier, around 1 p.m. on June 26.

"There will be classroom-style discussions on safety, maritime defense awareness, flight operations, EOD training, and 'cold form' amphibious operations planning," Rodriquez added.

On June 27, the second day of the training, discussions and training on side-scan sonar will take place.

Side-scan sonar is use for hydrographic surveys and on June 29, both US and Philippine participants will conduct their maritime surveillance exercises.

Rodriquez stated that on June 29, a gunnery exercise will take place 39 nautical miles southwest off Sampaloc Point, which is located on the lower tip of Zambales.

All surface ship assets participating in CARAT 2014 will participate in this activity, he added.

"(Aside from this), we'll also conduct maritime interdiction operations, visit board-search-and-seizure exercises at sea, all will be within the (above-mentioned) area, riverine (exercises) and diving and communication exercises will take place on June 28 and 29," Rodriquez stressed.

The Philippine Fleet spokesperson also clarified that CARAT 2014 has nothing to do with the ongoing maritime dispute with China concerning Scarborough Shoal.

"This is purely training, a purely maritime training activity that is conducted annually. It has no connection with the current dispute (issue on territorial claims). Just to emphasize that both our Navies have conducted CARAT activities in different areas in the Philippines, the previous CARAT exercise in 2009 was in Cebu, 2010 in Subic, 2011 in Palawan, 2012 was held in Mindanao, in 2013 in Subic. Carat is on its 20th year now since its inception (and)this shows the longstanding relations between the two allies," he pointed out.

Rodriquez also stressed that China has nothing to worry about the exercise.

"This has nothing to do with Philippine-China dispute or the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, this is a regular training activity that we are conducting every year, even before this recent territorial issues, we have been conducting this (for a long time)," he concluded.

Ranking PA, U.S. Army Pacific Command officials meet for defense talks

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): Ranking PA, U.S. Army Pacific Command officials meet for defense talks

Ranking officers of the Philippine Army (PA) and the United States Army Pacific Command (USARPAC) are now engaged in talks to strengthen defense cooperation between the two countries.

The activity started June 25 and will conclude on this Friday, June 27.

Army Chief Lt. Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri led the Philippine Army delegation during the opening ceremony of the 2nd Executive Steering Group (ESG) meeting which was held at the PA Officers' Club House in Fort Andres Bonifacio, Taguig City.

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, USARPAC commander, represented by Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, I Corps commanding general who arrived in Manila on June 25.

The ESG, which is held annually, is hosted by the PA.

The ESG was created to bolster the longstanding and close relations between the Armies of the United States and the Philippines; promote open discussion of subjects of mutual interest to both armies; and build synergy with other U.S. Land Force Components.

It can be recalled that one of the major command thrusts of the PA chief is to sustain international engagement and peace support operations.

In furtherance thereof, the PA continues to enhance its joint and combined operational capabilities by further improving Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) for interoperability with other armed forces in addressing operational exigencies, and by developing new means and methods to effectively and efficiently collaborate with foreign forces and other agencies.

The PA believes that international engagements such as this one will not only boost military cooperation with foreign counterparts, but will also provide impetus for capability upgrade.

AFP conducts ROTC symposium

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): AFP conducts ROTC symposium

In an effort to enhance the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Program and increase the number of its enrollees, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday conducted the ROTC Commandants’ Symposium at the AFP Commissioned Officers Club in Quezon City.

The AFP through the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Reservist and Retiree Affairs, J-9, invited officials from the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education, and selected National Service Training Program (NSTP) directors to participate in Thursday's activity.

The symposium focused on the current status of the ROTC Program implementation, best practices by the commandants, and updates on the DepEd’s K12 program and its effects on ROTC.

It also served as opportunity for different NSTP school administrators to give insights on how to enhance ROTC and develop creative ways to increase the number enrollees.

The Deputy Chief of Staff for Reservist and Retiree Affairs, Rear Admiral Romeo Santiago Nebres presided over the event.

The ROTC program is the main source of reservists in the AFP.

However, with the implementation of the NSTP Act of 2001 mandating the voluntary enrolment in the program, the number ROTC enrollees have since declined.

Based on recorded data, there was almost 50 percent decrease in the number of enrollees from over two million in 2001 to an estimated 950,000 in 2012.

The Constitution states that the preservation of the state is an obligation of every citizen.

The ROTC program is a good training program for our youths to prepare them in the fulfillment of this sacred duty.

The AFP on its part continues to encourage more youth to enroll in the ROTC program.

It is high time that we develop people who will willingly help us in the emerging threats of external aggression and natural calamities and disasters.

Through ROTC, the country will have trained men and women who can defend their country in times of war and crises; undertake disaster, relief and rescue operations and; assist in socio-economic development, and operate vital government and private installations in times of emergencies.

The ROTC Program promotes nationalism and patriotism among the youth and develops their sense of willingness to render active military service and civil services, either for peacetime, emergency or wartime missions.

P62-M gov’t peace projects benefit conflict-affected areas in Central Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): P62-M gov’t peace projects benefit conflict-affected areas in Central Mindanao

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has facilitated the completion of some P62 million-worth of various community peace projects that are now benefiting families in conflict-affected towns of Pikit, Arakan, and Libungan in Central Mindanao.

According to DSWD, the peace projects were built with funding support from the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) Project of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPPAP), which are part of the government’s firm intent for peacebuilding and development in conflict- affected areas in Mindanao.

PAMANA is the Philippine government’s program and framework for peace and development.

It focuses on providing development interventions in hard-to-reach and conflict-affected communities, as well as in areas covered by existing peace agreements. DSWD is one of the implementing agencies.

In the town of Pikit, DSWD has completed P27.8 million-worth of projects. Arakan and Libungan, on the other hand, have P20.7 and P13.5 million-worth, respectively, of finished projects.

Among these are peace centers, community livelihood projects, pre and post-harvest facilities, electrifications, water systems, roads, canals, classrooms, and day care centers.

According to DSWD Secretary Corazon J. Soliman, PAMANA employs the community-driven development (CDD) strategy which ensures people’s participation in decision-making process.

"The CDD process fosters peaceful relations between and among communities and addresses the root of conflicts," Soliman said.

DSWD-Field Office XII director Bai Zorahayda T. Taha emphasized that the projects form part of the synergized efforts of DSWD, local government units, village officials and volunteers.

The three towns have been granted additional P27 million funding for the implementation of more community projects that are expected to be completed before the year ends.

Aside from Region XII, other PAMANA areas are Regions IV-A, V, VIII, IX, XI, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), and CARAGA.

From 2012 to date, some 2,023 projects have been completed in these regions, the DSWD said.

3 MNLF factions agree to re-unite with Misuari as leader

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 27): 3 MNLF factions agree to re-unite with Misuari as leader

Three factions of the Moro National Liberation Front agreed to name founder Nur Misuari as their representative in future talks with the government to implement the 1996 peace agreement, and move as one in pursuit of peace and the Bangsamoro aspiration for self-governance.

During the June 11 to 12 meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, three factions of the MNLF – Habib Mudjahab Hashim’s MNLF Islamic Command Council (ICC), the Executive Committee of 15 led by Muslimin Sema and Nur Misuari’s group represented by lawyer Randolph Parcasio – signed an agreement to have “a unified, solid position toward efforts to arrive at a political, just and lasting peaceful solution” to the Bangsamoro problem.

Hashim, in a phone interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday, said they also agreed to have Misuari as the group’s leader and representative in future dealings with other institutions and entities, including the Philippine government.

Misuari, however, has been in hiding since his men attacked Zamboanga City in September 2013. He will be represented by lawyer Randolph Parcasio.

“We have discussed with MNLF senior leaders, together with the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), the need to intervene and seek for the lifting of Misuari’s arrest warrant,” Hashim said.

The new group, in a statement Hashim sent to the Inquirer, said its factions have agreed on the “oneness of MNLF under the leadership of MNLF founding leader and Central Committee chair Nur Misuari.”

The statement was signed by Hashim, Sema, Parcasio, Ustadz Abdulbaki Abubakar, Jimmy Labawan, Abdul Jabbar Narra, Yahodza Simpal, Hatimil Hassan, Shakiruddin Bajin and Mashur Jundam.

Hashim said no formal talks have happened between the MNLF and the MILF, which has signed a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the Philippine government.

“We just greet each other,” he said.

While the MILF recently signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government led by the Aquino administration, the MNLF has been complaining that the government failed to fully implement the provisions of the peace deal it signed in 1996. The MILF is a breakaway group of the MNLF.

In a text message, lawyer Emmanuel Fontanillas, who belongs to Misuari’s group, confirmed the unification.

“Yes, they are now united and that is expected since he (Nur Misuari) is the originator of the modern struggle. Eventually, all fronts will unite under him,” Fontanillas said.
Misuari was not invited in the Jeddah meeting initiated by the OIC.  But Hashim said they were in constant contact with Misuari during the two-day meeting.

The MNLF senior leaders also agreed that Parcasio will be the spokesperson of the “MNLF Jeddah Formula.” Hashim expressed the group’s hope that the Department of Justice would review the cases filed against Misuari.

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar said the lifting of the warrant of arrest against Misuari would be a matter for the Regional Trial Court in Taguig City to decide on.

“I believe that the Court will appreciate the merits of the case,” Salazar said.

Army tightens security in Maguindanao as Ramadan approaches

From the Philippine Star (Jun 27): Army tightens security in Maguindanao as Ramadan approaches

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division on Friday tightened security anew in Maguindanao to prevent possible attacks by the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) during the Ramadan fasting season.

The BIFF, led by radical clerics who are feared for their terror  activities, staged bloody attacks during the Ramadan season in 2012.

The attacks caused the dislocation of some 20,000 villagers in Maguindanao’s adjoining Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi, Datu Salibo, Mamasapano, Datu Piang, and Shariff Saidona towns.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said military units in Maguindanao are again on full alert, anticipating attempts by the BIFF to sabotage the observance of the Ramadan.

The Ramadan, to immediately start upon the sighting of the new moon either on Friday night, or at dusk on Saturday, is a holy month for Muslims.

Muslims fast from dawn to dusk during the Ramadan, which lasts for one lunar cycle of  29 to 30 days, as a form of atonement and to inculcate among them the importance of self-restraint to achieve spiritual perfection.

“We are not taking chances. Tight security measures shall be imposed to prevent attacks by this group during the Ramadan,” Hermoso said.

US troops in Mindanao not leaving, just relocating – BAYAN

From GMA News (Jun 27): US troops in Mindanao not leaving, just relocating – BAYAN

The disbanding of the US Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines in Mindanao after 12 years of operations does not mean that US forces are leaving the country, the broad militant alliance BAYAN said Friday, a day after Defense Secretary Voltair Gazmin announced the scaledown.

“The most likely scenario is that they will be relocating their operations in other parts of the country thanks to the de facto basing pact known as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement,” said the statement by BAYAN’s Renato Reyes Jr.

BAYAN noted the JSOTFP deployment made the Philippines the "second front' in Bush "war on terror" in 2002. From then on, they have not left the Philippines and were engaged in an actual combat in Philippine soil.

“The deployment of the JSOTFP shows what is inherently wrong, anomalous and lopsided in the Visiting Forces Agreement. The US forces were allowed uninterupted and permanent presence in Mindanao for more than 12 years even without a basing treaty. They were no longer visitors, given the length of their stay. The US troops engaged in combat operations disguised as anti-terror training exercises, in clear violation of our Constitution. This is because the VFA does not even specify what kind of activities US forces may engage in while in the Philippines,” said the alliance.The JSOTFP clearly provided the template for the EDCA, according to Reyes.

“It made use of rotational troops to achieve permanent presence in the country, while utilizing exisitng Philippine facilities like Camp Navarro in Zamboanga.” BAYAN warned that with EDCA in place, the same practice can now be replicated anywhere in the country. The US Special Forces from Mindanao can now be stationed in other provinces to conduct combat operations, military exercises, surveillance and other activities. They can now also store or preposition their equipment anywhere in the country, through Philippine military bases.

To make things worse for the Filipinos, said BAYAN, the EDCA shifts the burden and social cost of hosting US troops to the Philippines and the Filipino people.

“In a shameless display of dependence to the US, Philippine defense officials quickly clarified that the US forces were not leaving the country and were just being scaled down.”

BAYAN vowed to continue opposing US military presence in the country, from Mindanao to any area that would be used under the EDCA.

On Thursday, Defense chief Gazmin said the work of Filipino troops had improved sharply since their US counterparts, primarily special forces, started rotating through the south around 2002, adding that the Americans had also learned "jungle warfare" from the Filipinos.

A DND statement said, "The task force will no longer exist, but many of the capabilities will remain," under what it termed an "augmentation team".

KMU, Courage file 3rd suit vs. EDCA

From GMA News (Jun 27): KMU, Courage file 3rd suit vs. EDCA

A third petition has been filed with the Supreme Court contesting a controversial mutual defense deal between the Philippines and the US, this time filed by labor groups both from the public and private sectors.
In its petition, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and the state employees’ union Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) said the government committed grave abuse of discretion and violated the 1987 Philippine Constitution when it signed the controversial Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
The labor groups named as respondents Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad, and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Emmanuel Bautista.
Also included in the petition were Pio Lorenzo Batino, Defense undersecretary and chair of the country’s negotiating panel for EDCA, and panel members Ambassador Lourdes Yparraguerri, Ambassador Eduardo Malaya, Justice undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, and Defense undersecretary Raymund Jose Quilop. 
“Let there be no doubt about it: We are serious in wanting the EDCA to be junked. We do not want any of its provisions implemented. The Supreme Court should side with the Filipino workers and people on this most important issue,” KMU chairperson Elmer “Bong” Labog said.
The petitioners said the EDCA violates provisions of the Constitution pertaining to the preferential use of Filipino labor and domestic materials; tax exemption; national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national interest; freedom from nuclear weapons; role of the judiciary in settling disputes; autonomy of local government units; and treaties with other countries, specifically military treaties. 
“EDCA means the massive deployment of US military troops and weaponry into the country unprecedented since World War II. All freedom- and nation-loving Filipinos should stand up against it. We should not allow the US or any foreign power to re-occupy the Philippines,” Courage president Ferdinand Gaite said.
The two labor groups asked the high tribunal to issue a temporary restraining order against the agreement while the petition is being deliberated on by the Supreme Court.  They asked that the agreement be eventually stricken down as unconstitutional.
“EDCA is like a bomb thrown at the country’s Constitution,” Labog stated. 
“EDCA’s wholesale violation of the Philippine Constitution emphasizes the fact that it means the re-occupation of our country by a foreign power and is another insult to the country’s so-called independence,” Gaite said. 
The groups were joined by labor institute Center for Trade Union and Human Rights and the National Federation of Labor Unions-KMU, one of the oldest and biggest labor federations in the country, and were aided by lawyers belonging to the Pro-labor Legal Assistance Center.
Earlier petitions
The deal had already been contested earlier before the Supreme Court through two separate petitions filed by former senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tañada; and by another group composed of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, party-list lawmakers from the "Makabayan" bloc, and former solons, among others.
Saguisag  and Tañada claimed EDCA's terms and provisions are “lopsided in favor of the Americans.”
The second batch of petitioners, meanwhile, said the EDCA goes against the Philippines' national interest, is disadvantageous to Filipinos, and is mainly motivated by the US strategic re-balancing towards Asia and is therefore in the service of US security and economic interests. 
Under EDCA, the US will be allowed to build structures, store as well as preposition weapons, defense supplies and materiel, station troops, civilian personnel  and defense contractors, transit and station vehicles, vessels, and aircraft for a period of 10 years.
The petitioners said the EDCA would grant the US “carta blanche power to establish and operate de facto military bases anywhere on Philippine soil, minus the cost of paying for one.”
They also said the agreement would be a mere implementation of policies enshrined in the PHL-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT)  — a treaty whose constitutionality is being challenged for the first time before the high court with Saguisag and Tañada's petition.
President Benigno Aquino III has already expressed confidence that the EDCA, signed in April in time for US President Barack Obama's visit to Manila, can stand legal scrutiny even if it is challenged before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had already asked the respondents to comment on the first two petitions against the EDCA.

Navy recovers Malaysian barge reported missing in West PHL Sea

From GMA News (Jun 27): Navy recovers Malaysian barge reported missing in West PHL Sea

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command has recovered a Malaysian-owned civilian barge found abandoned near Hasa-Hasa Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, 1st Lt. Cheryl Tindog, spokesperson of the AFP's Western Command, said the barge, identified as Malaysian-flagged "Hub 18" and transporting about a hundred container vans, was towed to Ulugan Bay in Palawan around 7 a.m. Friday.

The abandoned barge was sighted by a fishing vessel around five nautical miles from Hasa-Hasa Shoal, Tindog said.

She said the Western Command conducted a search and rescue mission after officials from Coast Guard Palawan District reported an incident involving a missing civilian barge and tugboat.

The Western Command then immediately dispatched Philippine Navy Islander 314 to conduct an aerial search, she added.

The barge will be anchored at Ulugan Bay while Philippine authorities continue to coordinate with the Malaysian owner, Tindog said.

She added that the owner of the barge has confirmed that its crew members were rescued by a Vietnamese boat on June 22 and were brought to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia.

"The owner said a tugboat will be sent to tow the barge back to Malaysia," she added.

According to a Philippine Navy international liaison officer in Singapore, the container vans on Hub 18 contain cars, parts, frozen fish and personal effects.

AFP chief of staff to retire ahead of retirement day

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 27): AFP chief of staff to retire ahead of retirement day

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt Gen. Emmanuel Bautista INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista will step down from service days ahead of his mandatory retirement next month.

Bautista will retire on July 18, or two days ahead of his mandatory retirement, said military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala on Friday.

The retiring AFP chief, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1981, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on July 20.

A testimonial review in his honor will be hosted by the Philippine Army at its headquarters in Fort Bonifacio days ahead of his retirement date. But it has yet to be scheduled. Bautista is a member of the 80,000-strong Army.

Contenders to replace Bautista include AFP Vice Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gregorio Pio Catapang, Army chief Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado and Navy chief Vice Admiral Jesus Millan.

Bautista has been serving as AFP chief since January 2013.

President Aquino assures MILF over peace deal

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jun 27): President Aquino assures MILF over peace deal

President Benigno Aquino on Friday has again assured the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that the draft law on the Muslim homeland deal is still under review before being pass to Congress next month for approval.

Speaking to reporters in Iloilo City, Aquino said he will personally study the thick draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL before it is submitted to Congress for ratification. “I have to confess, it’s siguro about six inches thick, ‘yung the law itself and also ‘yung comments by both parties. I have reserved Sunday to go through each and every one of those pages and hopefully, I can be of help to get both sides to really be fully supportive of the measure,”

The rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a peace agreement with Manila in March, has expressed serious concern over the delay in the signing of the proposed Muslim homeland law by Aquino.

Aquino received on April 14 the BBL drafted by the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission.  It was supposed to be signed by Aquino on May 5 after a battery of government lawyers reviewed the draft law to ensure that nothing in its provisions violate the Constitution.

Once Aquino signs the BBL, it can be ratified and implemented in time for the 2016 local and national elections. The BBL will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro region in 2016 that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM which is composed of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao, including the cities of Lamitan and Marawi.

Aquino has admitted meeting MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim in Hiroshima while visiting Japan and that they discussed the BBL and other issues.

“Now, we’re putting in all of the details and I asked him if it would be possible to meet sometime next week, either their panels or we, in particular, or our designated representatives to thresh it out and come up with the proposed measure and send it to Congress, even before the SONA,” he said, referring to the State of the Nation Address.

Aquino said Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Teresita Deles also met with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr. on June 26 and talked about how they can hasten the process of coming up with the proposed measure that both sides can fully support and endorse.

“But I can assure the Filipino people that we will be exerting all efforts to ensure that this measure is passed in a timely manner because the dream still is to give the new Bangsamoro government time to demonstrate its abilities. We’re hoping that all the steps will be done that they can sit in office by January 2015,” Aquino said.

The creation of Bangsamoro autonomous region would have to be decided on a referendum in the ARMM and in areas where there are large Muslim communities probably before the year ends.


MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said they are worried over the delay in the signing of the BBL. “We are seriously worried about the delay in signing of the BBL by President Aquino and this further delay the implementation of the peace agreement – the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro – and it creates problems not only to the Aquino government, but the MILF as well. It’s a political problem and government has to address this quickly because we are running out of time here,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.


Deles has repeatedly said in the past that the BBL is likely to be certified as an urgent bill by Aquino and would be submitted to Congress for passage, and subjected to a plebiscite. But some lawmakers and various groups were saying that the accord was unconstitutional and vowed to challenge it in court.

The Aquino government insisted the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro is legal and that the deal was based on the Constitution. “The CAB is legal,” said lawyer Anna Basman, head of the Cab legal team, but she was quick to say that they are open to engaging and informing everyone on the different provisions on the CAB.

“Our Constitution itself provides the justification for the asymmetry and reserved a separate set of provisions for two particular areas in the country – Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras. This progressive and enlightened section recognizes the uniqueness of the peoples belonging to these areas and provides for their rightful exercise of self-governance. The Bangsamoro Basic Law as the enabling law for the establishment of the Bangsamoro precisely aims to operationalize this constitutional objective,” Basman said.

No to Bangsamoro deal

Christian leaders of Zamboanga and Isabela in Basilan, also a province under the ARMM, also vowed to fight for their inclusion in the new Bangsamoro homeland, although many of the residents there are Muslims and supportive of the peace deal. The other provinces in ARMM are Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.

In the Lanao town of Wao, Christian villagers vowed to reject their inclusion to the new Bangsamoro region. Villagers said shortly after the deal was signed in March 27, Muslim groups have emerged and started claiming farmlands owned by Christians as theirs and invoking their ancestral rights in Lanao del Sur.

Some villagers said several groups of Maranao, one of several Muslim tribes in Mindanao, have started putting up markers and began claiming farmlands as their ancestral domain. The markers had been destroyed by landowners.

Now, many residents have started arming themselves for fear that once the new Bangsamoro autonomous government is installed, Muslims will take away their lands which they inherited from their clan. Majority of the town’s 40,000 inhabitants is Christians.

In Sultan Kudarat province, villagers in the town of President Quirino were also facing the same dilemma, but many also have purchased illegal weapons to protect their families and lands from unjustified takeover by Muslims who warned them that they should leave the town immediately once the Bangsamoro autonomous region is installed because they would take over their farms.

Indigenous tribesmen in the ARMM were also worried about their future and asked the government to ensure their rights and ancestral domain, but others have rejected their inclusion into the proposed Bangsamoro region. Miriam Coronel, the chief government peace negotiator, and Deles's group continue to hold dialogues in Muslim areas, explaining the provisions in the CAB. 

The MILF - a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front which signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 - is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for decades now for self-determination.

In 2008, rebel forces launched simultaneous attacks in southern Philippines after the Supreme Court stopped the signing of the territorial deal between the Arroyo government and the MILF, which is fighting for a separate homeland in Mindanao, because many of its provisions were unconstitutional. The MILF said the peace panels have initially signed the Muslim homeland agreement in Malaysia, which is brokering the talks.

The controversial deal also sparked massive protests from politicians opposed to the agreement that would have granted about four million Muslims their homeland in more than 700 villages across Mindanao.