Wednesday, November 26, 2014

PH, Vietnam navies deepen ties amid regional sea tension

From Rappler (Nov 26): PH, Vietnam navies deepen ties amid regional sea tension

Two Vietnamese warships are on a 'goodwill visit' to Manila, seen as a sign of stronger relations between the Philippine Navy and the Vietnam People's Navy

GOODWILL VISIT. The Vietnam People's Navy make its first ever port call in Manila. Photo from the Philippine Navy

GOODWILL VISIT. The Vietnam People's Navy make its first ever port call in Manila. Photo from the Philippine Navy
Two Vietnamese warships are docked at the South Harbor in Manila for the first ever port call of the Vietnam People's Navy (VPN) to the Philippines – part of a series of activities with the Philippine Navy (PN) meant to deepen ties amid regional tension over sea disputes.
"This first port call is a positive and good sign of the improving and deepening relations between the Philippine Navy and the Vietnam People's Navy," said Lieutenant Commander Marineth Domingo, spokesperson of the Philippine Navy.
The two Vietnamese warships – Dinh Tien Hoang (HQ-011) and Ly Thai To (HQ-012) – carries about 200 navy officers led by VPN Deputy Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Nguyen Van Kiem.
The VPN Deputy Chief and the commanding officers of the ships visited the Philippine Navy headquarters, and were received by Philippine Navy Vice Commander Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad.
Domingo said the visit will also include activities such as goodwill games, ship tours, and receptions to promote camaraderie and friendship between the officers.
The two countries signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Defense Cooperation in October 2010, but the activities between the navies were only held this year: the PN hosted the first staff-to-staff meeting in March; in June, Vietnam hosted the first PN-VPN Personnel Interaction at Southwest Cay Island.

Domingo said the focus of recent activities between the Philippines and Vietnam is Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and cultural engagements "to better understand the different cultures and to foster camaraderie and friendly relations between the two nations."

STRONGER TIES. Vietnam People Navy's Deputy Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Nguyen Van Kiem and Philippine Navy Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad. Photo from the PH Navy

STRONGER TIES. Vietnam People Navy's Deputy Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Nguyen Van Kiem and Philippine Navy Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad. Photo from the PH Navy
Information sharing is included in the newly-drafted Memorandum of Understanding that is meant to implement the 2010 MOA.

"Under the proposals, both parties discussed ways on cooperating through reciprocal visit and exchanges, personnel education and training exchanges, naval technology exchanges, and intelligence and information exchanges," Domingo said.

The two countries, both with overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), are leading the fight against China's aggressive claim over almost the entire South China Sea. The coasts of the Philippines and Vietnam constitute the eastern and western corners of the South China Sea, respectively.

North Cotabato bombing suspect nabbed

From Rappler (Nov 27): North Cotabato bombing suspect nabbed

The suspect has standing warrants for carnapping and robbery with violence but has no link to any armed group, based on police records

Police authorities have arrested the suspect in the bombing incident that killed a student and wounded at least 16 others in Kabacan town in North Cotabato on November 16.

North Cotabato Provincial Police chief Senior Superintendent Danilo Peralta said Badrudin Abid, a resident of Barangay Poblacion, Kabacan, was arrested at a checkpoint in President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat at around 3 pm on Tuesday, November 25.

Two of Abid's companions evaded arrest in a separate operation conducted by North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat police.

Peralta said an informant had positively identified Abid as the one who had allegedly used a 60mm mortar round in the improvised explosive device (IED) detonated at a pedestrian overpass in front of Kabacan Pilot Elementary School on November 16.

Abid was charged with murder for the death of student Monique Montawil, and multiple frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder.

Police said Abid has standing arrest warrants for carnapping and robbery with violence.

The North Cotabato provincial government and the Kabacan municipal government had earlier offered a P200,000 ($4,450*)-reward for information leading to the arrest of those behind the blast.

On Sunday, another bomb blast in Pikit town killed 3 people and wounded 24 more.

North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza said the acts are meant to "sabotage" peace and development efforts in the province.

"It is downright disappointing to see innocent lives affected by this cowardly act. This is insane….The government invested so much resources and developmental programs to bring peace and order in North Cotabato. Unfortunately, there are those who want to sabotage all our sincere efforts," Mendoza said.

The military suspects the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters of staging the bombings but BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama denied the allegations, saying they only target military units and installations.

North Cotabato police are coordinating with the military on a deeper background check on Abid, as police records do not link him to any armed group.

China: PHL seriously violated our sovereignty and jurisdiction

From Ang Malaya (Nov 26): China: PHL seriously violated our sovereignty and jurisdiction

A day after the conviction of nine Chinese poachers, Chinese government is calling for their release without any condition. A Philippine court, regional trial court in Palawan, decided to impose fine of approximately USD 102,600 fine each for violating Philippine Fisheries Code and Wildlife Resources Conservation Act.

In a media conference, China’s government through its Foreign Ministry said, “The Philippine side has seriously violated China’s sovereignty and jurisdiction” by unlawfully arresting and detaining Chinese fishing boats and fishermen “and now making the so-called judicial decision.”

“China firmly opposes that and urges the Philippine side to unconditionally release the Chinese fishing boat and fishermen,” China added. “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) and the adjacent waters.”

These Chinese poachers were caught near Half-moon Shoal, approximately 60 nautical miles from west of Palawan – well within 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone of the country, by Philippine National Police Maritime Group and PNP Region 4-B with possession of over 500 live and dead marine turtles last May this year.

US government: China building an airstrip complicates situation

From Ang Malaya (Nov 26): US government: China building an airstrip complicates situation

US State Department reacted to the latest development in China’s reclamation works over Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef). The department said such activity will complicate the situation in West Philippine Sea.

“Large-scale construction or major steps to militarize or expand law enforcement operations at outposts, such as dramatically expanding the size of a feature through land reclamation, would seem to complicate or escalate the situation in our view,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

The spokesman added that claimants should “avoid certain actions during the negotiating process for the code of conduct” to “create a conducive and positive environment and dramatically lower the risk of a dangerous incident.”

In 2002, ASEAN countries and China signed the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. The declaration states in Article 5 that parties should “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.”

Parties in the South China is in the process of a more binding Code of Conduct.

A Chinese general earlier said that Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam have already set up military facilities in South China Sea and that China should also establish their own.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf member charged for Zambo blasts

From GMA News (Nov 26): Suspected Abu Sayyaf member charged for Zambo blasts

Police this week charged a suspected member of the Abu Sayyaf Group for the twin explosions that rocked an establishment and injured a policeman in Zamboanga City on Nov. 9.
The Zamboanga City Police Office lodged a frustrated murder complaint against Muamar Askalni a.k.a. Abu Rami, an alleged member of the Abu Sayyaf Group.
Police Superintendent Ariel Huesca, commander of the Public Safety Company, also said police in the city will maintain heightened alert.
Meanwhile, Huesca clarified the Nov. 9 bombing was not related to an incident in Malagutay, where authorities had detonated a backpack containing ammunition, hand and rifle grenades, or a grenade-throwing incident in Barangay Buenavista last Saturday.
He said the backpack containing ammo and explosives in Malagutay was not intended for making improvised explosive devices.
As for the Buenavista incident, he said it could be politically motivated against the barangay chairman or related to the illegal drug trade.
Police have arrested one Mark Anthony Herrera for the grenade attack in Buenavista.

GPH, MILF create coordination body for Bangsamoro transition, undertake farmers' assistance program

From the Philippine Information Agency Nov 26): GPH, MILF create coordination body for Bangsamoro transition, undertake farmers' assistance program

While Congress deliberates on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the peace panels of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed to organize a body called the Coordination Team for the Transition (CT4T) to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority on Sunday, during a special meeting in the Malaysian capital.

According to the terms of reference (TOR) signed by the panels on November 23, the CT4T shall serve as the "primary mechanism for coordination between Parties and concerned agencies to ensure that the necessary steps are undertaken in preparation for the transition leading to the installation of the BTA."

"The preparations for the eventual establishment of the Bangsamoro are crucial to ensure that we hit the ground running once the Bangsamoro government is established," said Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, government panel chair.

According to the road map signed by the two parties, the ARMM shall be abolished once the BBL is ratified and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is established. The BTA shall serve as the interim government in the Bangsamoro during the period between the ratification of the BBL and the assumption into office of the elected members of the Bangsamoro Parliament.‎

 CT4T composition and mandate

The CT4T will be comprised of five government representatives from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the regional government of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and five representatives from the MILF.  

According to its TOR, the CT4T shall facilitate the generation and sharing of necessary information related to the transition to the BTA such as but not limited to the inventory of personnel, programs, properties, assets and receivables that would be turned over to the BTA. It shall prepare reports containing such information and data, including recommendations for the transition.

The CT4T may request GPH and ARMM officials and employees, and other resource persons, for information, data, reports, and advice as may be necessary; and propose mechanisms, guidelines, and processes necessary to help facilitate transfer of functions of the ARMM and other relevant national agencies to the BTA.

The CT4T shall also craft and oversee a communication plan that will address concerns of stakeholders both within ARMM and other observers of the GPH-MILF peace process.

Coronel-Ferrer said that “the work of the CT4T shall be vital in addressing the concerns of  ARMM employees." She added that the Civil Service Commission and other relevant agencies will be consulted to ensure that civil service rules will be followed, and civil service eligibilities and entitlements of ARMM employees will be respected.

 Confidence building for transformation of MILF camps

Also signed during the special meeting between the Parties was the terms of reference of the initial “confidence-building measure for the six acknowledged MILF camps through the Department of Agriculture (DA) farmers' assistance program.”

The program is in line with the implementation of the Annex on Normalization, which forms part of the CAB. The said annex provides for confidence-building measures that may be undertaken through the Joint Task Forces for the transformation of six acknowledged MILF camps into peaceful and productive communities.

To facilitate the implementation of the program, the DA shall provide a check list of assistance that may be given through the Joint Task Forces. The MILF Task Forces for the camps will select the appropriate forms of assistance and the beneficiaries.

The six previously-acknowledged MILF camps are located in the Maguindanao, Lanao and Cotabato provinces. They were acknowledged by the Philippine government in 1997 shortly after the ceasefire agreement between the two parties was signed. the GPH and MILF panels formed a task force for each of these camps with two members from each party. They are coordinated by a designated member of the the government and the MILF panels.

"We want the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the armed wing of the MILF, to feel that the peace will enable them to have productive lives," said Senen Bacani, GPH panel member tasked to co-coordinate the Task Forces. "This way, we are making sure that the ceasefire will become permanent and development will be felt on the ground."

The Joint GPH-MILF Task Forces represented by Bacani and Abhoud Lingga, MILF panel member, will be meeting with DA Secretary Proceso Alcala to begin the immediate implementation of the farmers' assistance program. (OPAPP)

‘MILF’ member, helper shot dead in gun fight with cops in Las Piñas

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 25): ‘MILF’ member, helper shot dead in gun fight with cops in Las Piñas
A man, reportedly a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and his helper were killed in an ensuing gunfight with police who had tried to serve a search warrant in his house in Las Piñas on Tuesday.

Chief Inspector Marlo Solero, head of the city’s intelligence unit who led his men in the operation, said the police were supposed to serve the Nov. 19 warrant issued by Judge Salvador D. Timbang from the Office of the Executive Judge of the Las Piñas Regional Trial Court against Mandy Solaiman Abubakar in his house in Samata Village, in Talon 5.

Solero said the search warrant was issued by the court specifically for the unlicensed firearms and ammunition the police believed were in Abubakar’s house.

“But as soon we got to the house around 5:30 a.m., shots were fired at us. The bullets pierced through the walls of the house,” Solero narrated.

He said the police did not open fire then, and instead looked for someone they could talk to in the Muslim community to convince Abubakar to open the door to the authorities.

“We first talked to one of Abubakar’s siblings. There was a negotiation, and he was told to surrender,” Solero said.

The police official said in the “second round” of negotiation, the community hadji, or elder, tried to persuade Abubakar to surrender but he still refused to do so.

“After more or less an hour (of negotiations), one of the siblings told me, “Sir, bahala na kayo (Sir, it’s your call),” Solero said.

He said the police barged into the house, sending Abubakar and another man, later identified as his helper Rasid Sabandal, alias Tsuk, running toward the roof.

The two suspects, who were firing at the police, even entered another house through a window.

“We were on the ground. We asked for clearance from the owner (of that other house) to enter,” he said.

He said Abubakar and his companion were hit by bullets but could not say exactly which parts of their bodies were hit.

“Right after they were neutralized, I had them sent to the hospital so I wasn’t able to check where they were hit. But Abubakar was still breathing,” Solero said.

He said Abubakar was sent to the Las Piñas Doctors Hospital, while Sabandal was sent to Las Piñas Medical Center. They were both declared dead on arrival.

Chief Insp. Rey Viloria, Las Piñas Police public information officer, said the police recovered two .45 caliber pistols, one .38 cal. revolver, one hand grenade, one 22 cal. pistol, a 19 mm. machine pistol, one nine mm. Beretta, and one improvised shotgun from the house.

“We were also surprised to find more or less a kilogram of shabu, drug paraphernalia, and five digital weighing scales. These indicate they were also into drug selling,” Viloria said.

Solero said the drugs could be worth P3 million.

A police official who refused to be identified said that based on an informant’s tip, Abubakar was a member of the MILF, but this information was still being verified by the police.

Jennifer’s family, supporters launch campaign for justice

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 25): Jennifer’s family, supporters launch campaign for justice

Forty days after transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude was found dead inside a motel here, her relatives said they felt like grappling in the dark as they awaited the prosecution panel to charge the suspect, a US serviceman, in court.

Laude’s mother Julita and sister Marilou appealed to the government to speed up the ongoing investigation into the evidence gathered during the preliminary probe and charge US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton with murder.

Accompanied by supporters, Laude’s relatives carried placards with the message, “All of me … for Jennifer, for Justice and against VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement),” at the Heritage Garden cemetery here as they marked the 40th day of Laude’s death on Thursday.

“Until now, there’s no justice for her (Laude). I hope President Aquino will hear our plea,” Julita said.

She asked the President to seek the American government’s help in resolving the case. “He is also a Filipino and I hope he talks to the US government to help us get justice,” she said.

Marilou said her family had long been wanting to see that the murder complaint they filed in the city prosecutor’s office on Oct. 15 against Pemberton would be elevated to the court soon.

The prosecution panel has yet to finish its preliminary investigation of the murder complaint.

“Let’s not delay this any longer. We hope to see the case being heard in court and that Pemberton will be jailed,” Marilou said.

The prosecution team earlier said it would take them at least three weeks from Nov. 5, when its members inspected the motel and disco bar where Laude and Pemberton were seen, to finish the preliminary probe.

Laude was found dead in a motel bathroom here on the night of Oct. 11, minutes after her companion, who witnesses identified as Pemberton, left their room.

Pemberton is being held at a facility overseen by the Philippine and US governments inside Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

In time for the 40th day of Laude’s death, lawyer Virgie Suarez, one of the Laude family’s lawyers, said she started the “All of me” campaign to express her resolve to get justice for Laude.

Suarez said she posted a photo of herself on her Facebook account, carrying a placard that read, “I am Jennifer …. I give my all for justice!”

Executive explains to SC nature of EDCA, defends non-submission to Senate

From InterAksyon (Nov 25): Executive explains to SC nature of EDCA, defends non-submission to Senate

Supreme Court justices, led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, enter the main hall for an en banc hearing in this October 2013 file photo. INTERAKSYON.COM FILE

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is an executive agreement that does not need the concurrence of the Senate, government lawyers said Tuesday at the resumption of oral arguments before the Supreme Court.

Grilled by the justices, Acting Solicitor General Florin Hilbay maintained that the EDCA, signed in April this year, only needs a ratification from the President and not from the Senate, as petitioners insist. Among the petitioners are  former senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tanada, two of the so-called "Magnificent 12" who in 1991 voted to end the RP-US bases treaty,  and militant lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives.

“Since the EDCA involves an agreement for the improvement of Philippine military bases and Philippine military facilities, the EDCA need only be approved by the President of the Philippines as an executive agreement," Hilbay argued on Tuesday.

Hilbay pointed out that EDCA is a component of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), ratified by the Senate during the term of President Joseph Estrada.

Not about setting up bases

He also said that EDCA is not about the establishment of foreign military bases, as repeatedly stressed by the petitioners questioning its legality. It is only the latter (foreign military bases) that require Senate concurrence, he added. For this very reason, he said, Malacanang did not bring the EDCA to the Senate.

“The Philippines retains ownership of the agreed locations and all the buildings and facilities the US will build or construct under the EDCA remain as Philippine property,” he said.

Access to and use of such facilities and areas by US military personnel will also be restricted and must be on a rotational basis and not permanently, as anti-EDCA petitioners have contended. “EDCA does not require Senate concurrence because the improvement of the military bases and facilities is consistent with the MDT’s defensive reaction and defensive preparation principles,” explained the acting Sol-Gen.

Also, the EDCA follows the VFA’s policy framework insofar as it “allows US troops, equipment, materials, supplies, aircraft and vessels to agreed locations or facilities and areas provided by the government through the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

US troops and all other activities related to EDCA may be made only - like in the VFA, Hilbay noted -  “at the invitation or upon approval of Philippine authorities.”

Asked what distinguishes these agreed locations from foreign military bases, Hilbay explained that bases conferred on the foreign military forces extraterritoriality and exclusivity - something that is not covered by EDCA.

Thus, he said, “the Philippines has control over these agreed locations not only because we own them, but also because we can set the parameters for their use by US troops.”

Not iron-clad guarantee in case of attack

When questioned by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Hilbay admitted that the EDCA does not provide solid guarantee that the US will come to the country's aid should its territorial dispute with China become a military confrontation.

“Yes, there is no guarantee and we are not saying it is (EDCA) the answer to all our problems,” he said adding that the agreement was generally meant to upgrade the country’s military facilities.

Still, he stressed, there is the MDT where the US and the Philippines commit to come to each other's aid in case of attack, especially from external forces.

DFA chief confirms Chinese reclamation on Kagitingan Reef

From InterAksyon (Nov 26): DFA chief confirms Chinese reclamation on Kagitingan Reef

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario confirmed Tuesday night reclamation activities undertaken by China in Kagitingan Reef, one of the disputed territories in the South China Sea.

In a chance interview before defending the DFA’s budget before the Senate, Del Rosario said the government has lodged a formal protest with China.

“We have already sent a note verbale on October 10 regarding that. We just checked. We looked at our records and discovered that a note verbale has already been sent,” Del Rosario said. “We are protesting the activity.”

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang who was also at the Senate, said the military, for its part, is trying to ascertain whether the ongoing activity involves the construction of an airstrip.

Earlier reports said the reclamation in Kagitingan Reef, also called Fiery Cross Reef, is already in the advanced stage and is believed intended for the construction of an airstrip.

“As of now, the DFA has the lead role in trying to find out whether indeed it’s an airstrip. So, whatever the findings of the DFA, we will just await their instructions, kung ano man ang kailangang gawin ng AFP (on what the AFP should do),” Catapang said.

“The situation is very normal. We continue to monitor the area, we continue to re-supply our troops, we continue to do our daily job and we continue to put our troops there. They are in the area as of now,” he said.

Asked why he considered the situation “normal,” Catapang said: “Because nobody bothers them (Filipino soldiers in the said area).”