Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MILF: “Success of peace process, best tribute to Mamasapano victims”- Peace Summit delegates

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 30): “Success of peace process, best tribute to Mamasapano victims”- Peace Summit delegates

“Success of peace process, best tribute to Mamasapano victims”- Peace Summit delegates
Delegates of the Peace Summit said the best tribute to all those who died in the Mamasapano encounter would be to  bring  lasting  peace  in  Mindanao  by  allowing  the  peace  process  to  move  forward  and  for human development and social justice to flourish. 

The Peace Summit that was held on April 18 was organized by the Citizens Peace Council, a body convened by the Aquino administration to review the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and help the public understand the proposed measure.

The Peace Council attended the congressional hearing on BBL on Monday and submitted its findings on its review to the proposed legislation that will establish an autonomous political entity for the Bangsamoro people.

The group said they recognized that the incident in Mamasapano “dealt a huge blow to peace process” and as a result, “the public’s view of the BBL was unfortunately colored by a lack of trust towards the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) both as the government’s negotiation partner and as future leaders of the Bangsamoro.”

The bloody incident claimed the lives of 44 police commandoes, 17 Mujaheedins and three civilians. It further resurrected the mistrust and bigotry towards the Moros. The MILF and Muslims are tagged terrorists, murderers, or traitors in the commentary sections of online news items. 

Along with this was the mounting call for the scrapping of the BBL while others call for the all-out-war against the MILF. BBL critics viewed the measure as “unconstitutional.”

The government peace panel that was bent to save the peace process was criticized and accused of siding with the MILF.

“At the Summit,  the  delegates  saw  the  need  for  both  the  public  and  our  lawmakers  to  transform  the incident into a challenge – that the best tribute to all those who died in Mamasapano would be to  bring  lasting  peace  in  Mindanao  by  allowing  the  peace  process  to  move  forward  and  for human development and social justice to flourish,” the Peace Council report said.

Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, peace council original member, told the congressmen of their findings on the contentious issues of the BBL as follows:

A.The BBL does not vest statehood to the Bangsamoro Government. The provisions on “people,” “territory,” and “self-determination” are not vestiges of a separate state, but are consistent with the constitutionally mandated creation of autonomous regions. 

B. The Bangsamoro Government, as constituted in the BBL, is compliant with the requirements of the Constitution. The government, with an executive department and legislative assembly, has officers that are elective and representative of the constituent political units. 

C. The inter-governmental relation between the National Government and the Bangsamoro Government is consistent with the allocation of powers mandated by the Constitution. The defined relationship between the National Government and the Bangsamoro Government embodies the essence of genuine autonomy, based on principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. 

D. The Supreme Court and the Constitutional Bodies continue to maintain the powers that are given them under the Constitution. There is neither substitution nor diminution of powers intended or effected by the creation of the Bangsamoro human rights, auditing, civil service, and electoral offices. 

E. The plebiscite requirement in the BBL adheres to the provision of the Constitution on the process for creation of the autonomous region.

MILF: Bangsamoro autonomy is alternative to independence, war: Peace Council

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 30): Bangsamoro autonomy is alternative to independence, war: Peace Council

Bangsamoro autonomy is alternative to independence, war: Peace Council

The grant of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region through the Bangsamoro Basic Law is “alternative to independence or war,” Malacañang-convened Citizens Peace Council said in its BBL review report which was submitted to the House of Representatives on Monday.

The Council was composed of Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Howard Dee and Muslim Princess Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman.

The report related that, “A total of 136 participants joined the discussions in one or more of the clusters reflecting these themes  and  separately  discussed  the  BBL  from  8-17  April  before  convening  for  the  National Peace Summit on 18 April 2015.” 

“When reading  the  proposed  Bangsamoro  Basic  Law,  it  is  therefore  presumed  that  all  Constitutional powers  of  government    and  the  Constitutional  Commissions  and  bodies  remain  intact, regardless of whether the law explicitly provides for it or not,” the report said.

“There is no creation of a separate kind of citizen, and no creation, virtual or otherwise, of a political territory that is greater than the national government that creates it, or beyond the reach of the Constitution that allows it.” 

“The grant of regional autonomy is an alternative to independence or secession.  But more than that, the establishment  of  the  Bangsamoro  Autonomous  Region  through  the  BBL  must  be  seen  as  an alternative  to  war.”

“Legislation,  therefore,  in  this  context,  should  be  seen  as  a  peace-building exercise.  Legislators are not only policy formulators, they become peace-builders,” underscored in the Peace Council’s finding.  

It was further pointed out, “Autonomy  and  self-governance  is  not  equivalent  to  independence  or  statehood,” but rather,  “an acknowledgement  of  human  diversity  and  recognition  that,  despite  decades  of  trying,  the different  cultures  had  not  been  served  in  any  effective  way  by  the  national  government.”

“A law creating an Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, therefore, cannot  be  expected  to  reiterate  the  same  powers  or  structures  as  our  traditional  political subdivisions,” the report stated.

And thus, “To  expect  an  Autonomous  Region  to  behave  like  a  province  or  city  defeats  the purpose of autonomy.  Similarly, to treat the Autonomous Regions like other local government units defeats the purpose of autonomy.”

To clarify the issue on secession, the Council rundown its explanation as follows: 

The BBL  does  not  make  the  Bangsamoro  Government  a  state.  The  provisions  on “people,” “territory,” and “self-determination” do not imply the creation of a separate state,  but  are  consistent  with  the  constitutionally  mandated  creation  of  autonomous regions.

Though the Bangsamoro will have a territory, people and its own government, much  like  any  other  local  government  unit  in  the  Philippines,  it  remains  part  of  the republic as the BBL clearly declares.  

An area with its own defined territory, jurisdiction, or  rules  does  not  make  that  territory  independent  from  its  parent  state.    Both  the Constitution  and  the  Local  Government  Code  refers  to  the  areas  of  local  government units as “territories”. 

The inclusion of a definition of ‘Bangsamoro People’ in the BBL is only  an  affirmation  of  identity,  not  a  definition  of  citizenship.  The  right  of  self-determination  is  a  right  of  all  peoples  and  is  not  equivalent  to  the  right  to  statehood.  

Self-determination  is  therefore  generally  understood  to  mean  what  our  own  Supreme 

Court has described as “internal” self-determination. 

President Aquino called for the creation of the peace council to study the BBL and help the public understand the proposed legislation that will pave way for the establishment of Bangsamoro autonomous region vested with more fiscal powers and stronger internal governance.

MILF: Mindanaowide campaign for BBL passage intensify

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 30): Mindanaowide campaign for BBL passage intensify

Mindanaowide campaign for BBL passage intensify

As the legislative deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) deepens, various groups and peace loving citizens in Mindanao intensify their campaign for the passage of the proposed measure aimed to put an end to the decades long conflict in Southern Philippines.

Pro-BBL organizations and individuals have been holding Mindanao wide activities to pitch their call on the lawmakers to pass the draft Bangsamoro law without dilution.

Around 1,250 peace advocates and members of civil society groups traversed major roads of Cotabato city to participate in the “Bangsamoro Run for Just and Dignified Peace” on April 23, 2015 morning.

Participants aired their call to Congress for the immediate passage of the BBL for the peace process to proceed until the desired aspiration for peace and development of Bangsamoro people is achieved.

Peace advocate groups of Davao city joined the peace run which started at Rizal Park fronting the city hall and ended at Magsaysay Park.

Similar activity kicked off in North Cotabato province on the same day. Peace advocates of the towns of Cabacan and Carmen converged at Pikit, all part of North Cotabato, to voice out their yearning for the peace process to succeed with the realization of new autonomous government for the Bangsamoro.

On April 25, hundreds of peace advocates from across Davao region bringing their tarps and streamers traversed major streets of Davao City to demonstrate their appeal to the lawmakers for the immediate passage of the basic law for Bangsamoro.

Among the groups who joined the peace caravan were Maranao People Development Center (MARADECA) and the Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC).

In Cotabato City, peace advocates from the town and neighboring municipalities joined the peace caravan to sustain the series of activities for the Mindanao-wide campaign calling for BBL passage.

The string of peace advocacy actions of the different civil groups culminated with a synchronized torch parade. Advocates of peace convened at Cotabato Polytechnic College and marched along Sinsuat Avenue bringing torches “with hope to enlighten the hearts and minds of lawmakers from Upper and Lower Houses” Prof Raby Angkal, of Mindanao Alliance for Peace, said.

In Davao city, an interfaith prayer was held to culminate the series of peace advocacy initiatives done by supporters of BBL.

Thousands join the torch parade in Cabacan coming from 21 communities and students from 11 schools to demonstrate their all out support for BBL and peace in Mindanao

MAP is the lead organizing group and was supported by various organizations across Mindanao for the series of undertakings aimed to knock the hearts of lawmakers to pass the “unchanged” BBL. 

More than 20 thousand constituents, religious leaders and Madaris teachers of Lanao region signed a statement calling the Congress for the BBL passage this April. They said, “There is no existing alternative solution at this present time other than the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).”

Numerous people from different areas of Cotabato city responded positively in the signature campaign on April 28 spearheaded  by the League of Bangsamoro Organizations (LBO) in collaboration with Yes to Bangsamoro Government Movement (YBGM) in support to BBL. 

Muslim professionals and youth groups from Socsargen are set to initiate signature campaign for the passage of “unchanged” BBL by the Philippine Congress early this May.

MILF: Leaders of MNLF gather in Marawi City, affirms solidarity with MILF

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 30): Leaders of MNLF gather in Marawi City, affirms solidarity with MILF

(In photo- left) Ambasador Datu Abul Khayr Alonto , leader of the original Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Beside him is International Monitoring Team head Gen. Dato Sheikh Mokhsin bin Sheikh Hassan of Malaysia. (Joey P. Nacalaban)

(In photo- left) Ambasador Datu Abul Khayr Alonto , leader of the original Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Beside him is International Monitoring Team head Gen. Dato Sheikh Mokhsin bin Sheikh Hassan of Malaysia. (Joey P. Nacalaban)

On Wednesday, (April 29), the SunStar Cagayan De Oro reported that leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and about one thousand supporters  gathered in Marawi City last Tuesday (April 28) to firm up their call for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and expressed solidarity with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Early morning on same day they ‘walked for peace’ around the city and held a rally at the Banggolo Plaza in Marawi City to acknowledge the peace efforts of both the MILF and the Philippine government, the Sunstar also reported.

Datu Abul Khayr D. Alonto, chairman of the MNLF, said the Bangsamoro people are looking for more peace champions to push the BBL.

While he appreciated the unwavering support of President Benigno Aquino III to the BBL and the whole peace process with the MILF, Alonto admitted that the President’s efforts fall short, especially with his role in the Mamasapano incident that claimed the lives of 44 Special Action Forces of the Philippine National Police, 18 MILF fighters and five civilians last January 5.

Alonto said their eyes are now focused on the Senate committee on local government chaired by Senator Bongbong Marcos, after the House Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL wrapped up deliberations on the proposed law.

“But we feel comfortable with the chairmanship of Senator Marcos. We know he has compassion for the Bangsamoro people,” Alonto said.

The BBL, he said, might be last time the Bangsamoro people will agree to negotiating autonomy for their homeland.

“While we need sincerity to pursue lasting peace in Mindanao, all stakeholders, especially the government should consider the utmost necessity to settle the Bangsamoro issue and a diluted have a price that will be too great,” he added.

The participants to the gathering include surviving members of the original MNLF fighters known in the late 1960s and the 1970s as the black shirts, emissaries and representatives of the MILF, the government peace panel and the International Monitoring Team headed by its current head of mission Major General Dato Sheikh Mokhsin bin Sheikh Hassan of Malaysia.

Alonto also reiterated their solidarity with the MILF, saying that they share the same cause, which is to “assert the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination.”

He said the MNLF under his leadership and the MILF have set aside their differences and agreed to work together after he and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim signed a communiqué for cooperation at Camp Darapanan on January 5.

.Meanwhile, IMT head of mission Major General Dato said he is happy with the progress in the peace process, despite the setbacks caused by the Mamasapano incident.

Overall, he said, with the ceasefire mechanisms in place, proper coordination between the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the MILF have prevented violent confrontations.

“We have seen how MILF fighters move out of their positions to give way to government operations,” Dato said.

Peace, he added, “should be cherished by the Filipino people.”

CPP.NDF.NPA: 6 mercenary troops wounded in armed encounters in Quezon province

NDF/NPA propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Apr 28): 6 mercenary troops wounded in armed encounters in Quezon province

NDFP National Democratic Front of the Philippines
Spokesperson, Rosario Lodronio Rosal Command
NPA Mt. Sierra Madre-Southern Tagalog Subregional Command
Two successive encounters between soldiers of the Manila government belonging to the 21st Division Reconnaissance Company (21st DRC Armed Forces of the Philippines) and fighters of the New People’s Army belonging to the Rosario Lodronio Rosal Command (RLRC-NPA-Mt. Sierra Madre-Southern Tagalog Subregional Command) resulted to six AFP soldiers seriously wounded and one NPA fighter slightly wounded. The encounters happened in Barangay (village) Mahabang Lalim, General Nakar, Quezon.

The first encounter erupted at exactly 7:00AM this morning, 28 April 2015, and the second encounter happened at 10:00AM with a running gunbattle until 12:00 noon today.

Before the encounter happened, the military had been on a month-long combat operation to clear the mountainous areas of General Nakar, Real and Infanta towns in northern Quezon province as a preparation for the construction of the Sierra Madre Dams, a priority project of the Benigno Simeon Aquino government which the indigenous DUMAGAT and REMONTADO tribes are opposing.

The US-BS Aquino regime is trying to scare the people who are fighting against the said project because of the destruction that it would bring to the ancestral lands and to the environment. Together with the overwhelming support of the people, the revolutionary movement led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, National Democratic Front of the Philippines, and the NPA, strongly opposes and would fight back to preserve the ancestral lands of the DUMAGAT tribesmen and the preservation of the environment in Sierra Madre mountain range, and to stop the construction of the Sierra Madre Dams.

These encounters clearly show the NPA’s will to defend Sierra Madre Mountain against the onslaught of foreign and local capitalists who see the place as a source of gigantic profits, and not as a source of life that needs to be preserved.

The perseverance of the NPA to fight for the rights and welfare of the people clearly shows that the declaration of Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM-AFP) under Gen. Ricardo Visaya is an empty boast. The encounter is a slap on their faces. Definitely, this would not be the last. The NPA will continue to fulfill its role as the real soldiers of the people and in the service of the people opposite the mercenary soldiers belonging to the AFP and Philippine National Police who continuously serve the interests of the rich and powerful, the land grabbers, foreign capitalists, and the ruling class in Philippine society.

Because the NPA is waging a just war against the injustices committed by the few ruling elite and their foreign supporters, the NPA will surely persevere and will continue to gain victories until the final victory of the Philippine revolution. In contrast, the ruling classes and their imperialist master will suffer continuous defeat until they are overthrown by the Filipino people.

The ruling US-BS Aquino Regime will suffer the same fate of his predecessors that boasted that they would destroy the revolutionary movement but eventually failed until their last day in office. The truth is crystal clear that the revolutionary movement will persevere in the struggle for real fundamental change of Philippine society.

Long Live the New People’s Army!
Long Live the Filipino People!

Bantay Bayanihan seeks assessment in ‘dev't ready' Neg. Or.

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 30): Bantay Bayanihan seeks assessment in ‘dev't ready' Neg. Or.

Marietta Jambora, lead convener of the Bantay Bayanihan-Negros Oriental chapter, said Tuesday it is time to assess the accomplishments of key players after the declaration of Negros Oriental as a “conflict-manageable and development ready” province.

On May 7, 2014, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in collaboration with the Philippine National Police, declared Negros Oriental as having reached such status, with the insurgency problem falling to an insignificant level.

Jambora, however, said the Provincial Peace and Order Council, chaired by Gov. Roel Degamo, is taking the lead in making sure that various line government agencies and other stakeholders have followed through with their programs and projects since the declaration of the province as such.

However, Bantay Bayanihan, being a member of the PPOC, will discuss in its regular quarterly meeting Wednesday the accomplishments of the line agencies, civil society organizations and other sectors whether their programs and projects stipulated in the memorandum of agreement signed last year.

Jambora said the individual plans need to be revisited as to the status of the province as “conflict-manageable and development ready” so Bantay Bayanihan can also make a formal report to the executive committee of the PPOC.

Meanwhile, the Bantay Bayanihan local chapter will hold its regular quarterly dialog with the security forces in Dumaguete City Wednesday.

Participating units and agencies are the AFP, PNP, Department of Justice, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Commission on Human Rights, Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the academe and the religious sector.

Bantay Bayanihan is the first in South East Asia to institutionalize CSO oversight in the implementation of the military's internal security campaign plan. It is an independent network recognized by the AFP to perform oversight function for Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan, Jambora said.

It has more than 150 civil society organizations in 16 conflict-affected provinces in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.

Created on November 29, 2011, Bantay Bayanihan engages in the security sector in critical and constructive collaboration towards peace and security sector reform, Jambora said.

NPA rebel yields explosives

From Tempo (Apr 29): NPA rebel yields explosives

Troopers belonging to 25th Infantry Battalion arrested on Sunday afternoon a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) and seized from him a cache of explosives and ammunition in Sitio Sapdan, Barangay Casoon in Monkayo town, Compostela Valley province.

Col. Romeo Brawner, Jr., spokesperson of Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), identified the captured rebel as Eugenio Piamonte alias Nestor. Brawner said the government troopers were conducting security patrol in the area when Piamonte was arrested.

Recovered from him were one M16 rifle, 11 unexploded improvised explosive device (IEDs), 10 pairs of police uniform with combat boots, 10 pairs of Army uniform with 25th IB patches, eight pieces of 40mm ammunition, one home-made M79 tripod, linked machinegun ammunitions, and a flare.

Lt. Col. Michelle Anayron, commander of 25th IB, told the media here that Piamonte, after the conduct of investigations, had cooperated with the authorities and revealed the location of other firearms hidden by the rebels. The Army was able to recover one more M16 rifle, one M14 rifle, and two Garand rifles, Anayron said.

NPA rescues female reb, captures 2 jail execs

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 30): NPA rescues female reb, captures 2 jail execs
At least three persons were wounded and two officers of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) were captured by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in their successful bid to rescue a female rebel leader and failed attempt to rescue another as the arrested rebel suspects were being brought to a court hearing in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, on Monday.

Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, deputy chief of the Army 4th Infantry Division’s public affairs office, said officers of the BJMP from the provincial jail of Surigao del Sur were transporting two rebel suspects from Tandag City to a hearing at the Regional Trial Court in Lianga town when they were fired upon by NPA rebels in Barangay (village) Amontay, Marihatag town, at 7:45 a.m. Monday.

The detainees were identified as Robert Rivas and Jojean Alameda who were arrested at a checkpoint manned by Scout Rangers and local police forces in Diatagon, Lianga last Feb. 13.

Two BJMP officers and Rivas were wounded in the gunfight, Martinez said. They were taken to the Adela Serra Ty Hospital in Tandag City, he added.

The rebels succeeded in rescuing Alameda but they also took with them two BJMP officers identified as SO2 Juan Salazar and SO2 Feliciano Polan. They failed to rescue Rivas.

Martinez said the NPA also took with them two M-4 rifles, four 9mm pistols and a .45 cal. pistol.

2 soldiers killed in NPA clash in Misamis Oriental

From ABS-CBN (Apr 29): 2 soldiers killed in NPA clash in Misamis Oriental

Two soldiers were killed and two others injured in an encounter with members of the New People's Army (NPA) in Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental Tuesday.

According to 4th Infantry Division commanding officer Major General Oscar Lactao, the clash between government troops and NPA rebels started past 7 a.m. and lasted for about nine hours.

The fatalities in the clash were identified as Sergeant Sansen Paña, a member of the 403rd Infantry Brigade's 43rd Reconnaisance Company, and Private First Class Almer Aban, a member of the 58th Infantry Battalion.

The remains of Paña have been brought to his hometown in Cagayan de Oro while the body of Aban will be brought to Camiguin on Thursday.

Pursuit operations are ongoing against the NPA rebels.
Meanwhile, the military's 1st Infantry Battalion also encountered around 30 members of the NPA in General Nakar, Quezon Wednesday.

Quezon Police Provincial Director Senior Superintendent Ronaldo Ilagan said the firefight in Barangay Mahabang Lalim lasted for about 40 minutes before the NPA retreated.
Recovered by the soldiers from the area were an AK-47 rifle, an M-16 armalite rifle, a garand rifle, three homemade shotguns, and various ammunition.

The soldiers also recovered a two-way radio and a backpack containing documents.

AFP: China’s concern over ASEAN statement on disputed sea ‘a good sign’

From GMA News (Apr 29): AFP: China’s concern over ASEAN statement on disputed sea ‘a good sign’

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Wednesday said China's concern over the joint statement of Southeast Asian countries on the tension in the South China Sea should be taken positively.
In an interview with reporters, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said China's concern shows that it takes into consideration "the voice" of Southeast Asian countries.
"That's a good sign [dahil] mayroon silang deep concern on the one voice of the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]," Kakilala said.
Kakilala said this after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was "extremely concerned" over the ASEAN statement, which was made after a summit this week in Kuala Lumpur, about the land reclamation and navigational freedom in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
"On this issue China has exercised extreme restraint," Hong said, repeating that China believed the dispute should be resolved via direct talks between the claimants.
There were no problems with freedom of navigation in the waters, Hong told a daily news briefing.
'Not fighting alone'
Meanwhile, Kakilala said as long as members of ASEAN remain united, it would be a "strong voice" against the China's aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
"The 10 member states is already a strong voice against the assertiveness ng China," he said. " I do hope na China will respect ASEAN calling for them to adhere to peaceful rules-based approach in settling the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea."
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas, with overlapping claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Recent satellite images show China has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in the Spratly Islands and may be planning another. 

US sharing PHL techniques in Balikatan with other allies

From GMA News (Apr 30): US sharing PHL techniques in Balikatan with other allies

The United States troops are sharing whatever they learned from their Filipino counterparts in the Balikatan joint military exercises with their allies from other countries, a US military official said on Wednesday.

"We can assure you that we are using what we have learned from our Filipino counterparts in helping other countries,” said Col. David Womack in a statement. Womack is the commander of the US Army contingent in the Balikatan exercises.

Womack said the US soldiers are also better as the two sides exchanged knowledge and skills during the military exercises. He said among the things the US side learned were techniques in responding to disasters.

However, Col. Laurence Mina, commander of Philippine Army contingent, said the US troops were particularly interested in jungle survival skills.

Mina said soldiers from the Philippines and US also developed a bond.

“Balikatan is not only about the military exercises, it is also about our friendship,” said Mina.

The exercise, which involved more than 11,500 Filipino and US troops.

Fort Magsaysay adjusts security measures after Balikatan theft

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 29): Fort Magsaysay adjusts security measures after Balikatan theft
A theft incident during Balikatan exercises has prompted Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija to adjust its security measures, a military official has said.

“The whole security measure of the camp is being readjusted to fit to the security requirement of the Balikatan forces,” said Army’s 7th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Glorioso Miranda on Wednesday.

“It is sad to note that bad elements took advantage of the situation and grabbed the opportunity to steal the personal belongings of the US forces.”

Four US personnel participating in the Balikatan exercises lost their belongings on April 9 around 1:30 a.m. inside the Exercise Relations Construction (ERC) compound at Special Operations Command in the 7th Infantry Division.

The four US troops arrived on April 8 and were part of the advanced forces and were billeted temporarily at the ERC compound while waiting for the whole contingent to arrive.

Miranda said the incident happened when the security measures within the exercise area were being readjusted.

“I would like to convey my message to all soldiers residing inside Fort Magsaysay that the security measure being implemented inside the camp is part of the overall security contingency to prevent the same incident from happening in the near future,” Miranda said.

“I would like you to understand that we are doing this security measures not only to protect the soldier but also to help in the security of nearby barangays from bad elements.”

Capt. Mark Anthony Ruelos, public affairs chief of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division, said the suspects, who were staying near the camp, were still under surveillance.

The items reported missing included one Samsung cell phone; one pair of military boots; one pair of rubber shoes; one wallet containing US credit card and driver’s license; US Army military ID; one pair of slippers; two pairs of rubber shoes; $2,150 and P2,000.

The military police recovered the missing personnel belongings which were turned over to the US Army on April 19, except for the cash and one pair of rubber shoes.

The items were recovered in a grassy area some 500 meters away from the compound, Ruelos said.

The Balikatan exercises will end on Thursday at the Commission Officers Club in Clark Air Base. Officials expected to attend are Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang Jr.

US-Philippine force wraps up on Panay

From DVIDS (Apr 29): US-Philippine force wraps up on Panay

TAPAZ, Philippines - The Combined-Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force on the island of Panay celebrated the completion of two new classrooms with a ribbon cutting ceremony at Don Joaquin Artuz Memorial Elementary School in Tapaz, Philippines, during Balikatan 2015, April 27.

The ceremony was attended by over 100 people and a number of military and local civic leaders including the Honorable Victor A. Tanco Sr., governor of Capiz Province; The Honorable Rosemarie F. Gardose, mayor of Tapaz Municipality; Dr. Miguel Mack Aposin, Capiz division superintended for the department of education; Armed Forces of the Philippines Vice Adm. Alexander Lopez, Balikatan 2015 exercise director; U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Bret Muilenburg, commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific; Capt. Erich Diehl, commander, Task Force 75; and Capt. James Meyer, commodore of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment and Balikatan CJCMOTF commander.

Engineers from the AFP Army’s 552nd Engineer Construction Battalion, U.S. Navy Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, and U.S. Marines from the 9th Engineer Support Battalion, worked “shoulder-to-shoulder” for 19 days to complete the modified Philippine Department of Education one-story, two-classroom block and concrete building. The school, with a student body of 500, saw 14 of 22 classrooms damaged during Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

“I believe that there is no better investment that the individual parents and teachers can make than an investment in quality education,” said Glenda Gervero, the school’s principal. “Rest assured that we will take great care of this memorable and great building and we are determined to make a difference.”

The construction represented a challenge to the engineers, with the average time to complete this kind of project around 60 days, according to Capt. Larry Camacan, the AFP’s lead engineer for the project. The AFP engineers broke ground on the project March 16, and were joined by the full complement of U.S. engineers April 8.

The engineers were employed on the parts of the construction they were most skilled and worked into the night throughout the project to ensure completion, Camacan said.

“For the ENCAP in particular, the Navy and Marine Corps team were able to capitalize on each other’s strengths. Along with the AFP and their tremendous strengths, their experience, and their knowledge, the team was able to identify those long-lead items, pay attention to those and make sure that they got done ahead of time,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Catherine Eyrich, assigned to NMCB 5 and CJCMOTF forward officer-in-charge.

The ceremony also marked the end to other CJCMOTF activities on the island of Panay during the exercise.

The AFP, along with a U.S. Marine civil affairs team, conducted humanitarian assistance and disaster relief surveys of airports in Roxas City, Caticlan, Kalibo, and Iloilo, as well as seaports in Iloilo, Culasi and Caticlan in order to determine the facilities’ capabilities to assist in the event of a disaster. The information will be used by the AFP to plan response efforts.

“The assessments allow for more accurate information to be presented to the higher elements - the command elements - so that if a disaster arises, they will be able to make a …decision based on facts,” said U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Alan Tirol. “That decision might mean the difference between saving lives in a shorter time period or a longer time period.”

The civil affairs team also conducted civil-military exchanges with the AFP to share experiences, ideas, and best practices in civil-military operations between the two militaries. Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief seminars were held for barangay leaders to assist in local disaster preparation and planning.

Cooperative health engagements were held by U.S. Army and Air Force medical personnel at the AFP Army’s 3rd Infantry Division headquarters in Tapaz, training over 160 AFP Army soldiers and local barangay health workers. The engagements taught life-saving first responder skills to use in the event of a natural disaster or everyday emergency.

The CJCMOTF’s operations were the first to occur on the island in the history of the exercise.

“We’ve incorporated from the top on down to the kids in taking ownership of the school building and the humanitarian and disaster recovery planning,” Eyrich said. “All of the interactions were easy, they were seamless. Obviously the AFP taking the lead on the project - we fell in line and followed their lead and together we were able to have mission success here in Panay.”

The Panay CJCMOTF is a forward element from the main CJCMOTF efforts taking place on the island of Palawan during Balikatan 2015. The CJCMOTF efforts are being led by the U.S. Navy’s 30th Naval Construction Regiment.

Balikatan, which means “shoulder to shoulder” in Tagalog, is an annual bilateral training exercise aimed at improving the ability of Philippine and U.S. military forces to work together during planning, contingency, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

Throwback airdrop – airlifters resurrect decades old-capability

From DVIDS (Apr 28): Throwback airdrop – airlifters resurrect decades old-capability

Droppin' cargo during Balikatan 2015

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ronald Flanagan, an aircrew flight equipment apprentice, 374th Operations Support Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, calibrates a pair of night-vision goggles with Philippine 1st Lt. Jo Baniqued, C-130 Hercules co-pilot, 220th Airlift Wing, at Brig. Gen. Benito Ebuen Air Base, Philippines, before a night flight, April 24, as part of exercise Balikatan 2015. This year marks the 31st iteration of the exercise, which is an annual Philippines-U.S. bilateral military training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance engagement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Allen/Released)

BRIGADIER GENERAL BENITO EBUEN AIR BASE, Philippines -- Philippine and U.S. air forces’ aircrew met here April 23-25 for a subject matter expert exchange dedicated to reviving an airdrop capability that had been dormant for 18 years.

C-130 pilots, loadmasters, maintainers, and others assembled at the air base as part of Exercise Balikatan 2015, an annual bilateral exercise in which U.S. military and Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” to share best practices, build relationships, and improve the ability to work together in the Asia-Pacific region.

Philippine Air Force Maj. Ian Earth Lamzon, commander of the 220th Airlift Squadron here, said the need for the exchange arose from the need to overcome unique obstacles faced by the PAF.

“During small contingencies and (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations) we found that runways become unavailable, meaning airdrop could only be performed,” Lamzon said. “Also, because runway lights tend to get destroyed as they did in Tacloban during Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, daytime flying becomes very congested and night flying is impossible.”

U.S. Air Force Capt. Chris Clinton, BK15 mission commander, 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, agreed that a large driving force behind the need to discuss low-cost, low altitude airdrop and night vision flying were the challenges brought up during the response to Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

“All of this is born out of lessons learned during Typhoon Yolanda,” Clinton said. “The Philippine Air Force couldn’t land (at Tacloban) at night because there was no lighting. We were able to because we were able to conduct night operations, but they couldn’t so it was frustrating for them. The airspace became very congested, and it becomes very frustrating. Also, there’s a lot of coastline in this country, which makes low-cost low-altitude capability here particularly valuable to provide airdrop to isolated areas.

The nature of an exchange is the open flow of communication between participating parties. As such, Lamzon said he feels the U.S. airlifters were able to learn lessons about flying and operating in the Philippines.

“We were able to help them understand the use of the airspace as well as coordination with civilian aeronautical authorities here,” he said. “Familiarizing themselves with checkpoints, waypoints for the drop, and observing limitations … we helped them to follow and respect the airspace limits here.”

Since this newly re-discovered capability is now a bilateral capability, Clinton said, it will serve both forces well should the need arise to join forces shoulder-to-shoulder for a real-world mission in the future.

“It provides a common ground, an avenue of interoperability. If they continue to develop this, we both can conduct airdrop operations jointly,” he said. “If another natural disaster were to strike the Philippines, if they have an airdrop capability, we can both be airdropping to provide relief to affected areas.”

Clinton also complimented the creativity and determination the PAF mustered to revive its airdrop capability in such a short amount of time.

“It was interesting to see their ingenuity in taking what they learned from us, observing us do the airdrop and then doing it their own way,” he said. “It was great seeing that process real time. We literally had front row seats to watch them develop a capability they haven’t had in 18 years, and we were able to see it from start to finish.”

KL meddling will lead to hostilities—Moros

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 29): KL meddling will lead to hostilities—Moros

THE Bangsamoro Basic Law is a peace deal devised to shut down the historical rights of the Sultanate of Sulu and the political aspirations of the Moro National Liberation Front and Malaysia’s continued intervention could lead to renewed hostilities, Moro leaders said on Wednesday.

Abraham Idjirani, secretary general to the Sultanate of Sulu, said Malaysia’s intervention in the BBL issue is a clear violation of principles and agreements espoused by the Association of South East Asian Nations and could spark war.

Moro National Liberation Front spokesman Absalom Cerveza shared Idjirani’s view and said “war could erupt between Malaysia and armed groups fighting Malaysian forces over the Sabah issue.”

The two Mindanao leaders made the remarks after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in his welcome remarks at the 26th Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur that there should be “no turning back on the Philippines peace process.”

“An Asean characterized by internal conflicts could never aspire to be a true community. To be a community, we must address internal conflicts within our region. This is why we are working with other countries to build peace,” Najib said, citing the Mindanao peace process where Malaysia is a third-party facilitator.

“The recent progress on the Bangsamoro peace process has been so important, and we must not pause in our efforts to bring a permanent resolution to a conflict that has led to so much loss of life and displaced hundreds of thousands over the years,” Najib said.

“[But] that could turning point into hostilities,” Idjirani said, noting that the Sultanate of Sulu would not give up ownership of Sabah.

“In the first place, that is not consistent with the principles and agreements among Asean nations, and it could be labeled an indirect intervention,” Idjirani said, adding that Malaysia was meddling in the issue because they wanted Manila to give up the Sabah claim.

“The BBL is only intended to extinguish the Sabah issue,” Idjirani said, but Malaysia’s politicking over the Sabah issue through the BBL could lead to hostilities between Malaysian forces and Muslim fighters the Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu provinces.

At least twelve members of the Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu, led by Agbimuddin Kiram, younger brother of Sultan Jamalulu Kiram III were killed after stirring security crisis with Malaysian forces after they barged into the coastal village in Lahad Datu sometime in 2013.

Idjirani said Moros are also aware that the BBL was crafted with the sole purpose of striking down “the political aspiration of the Moro National Liberation Front,” the rebel group identified with its founding chairman Nur Misuari.

“In fact, the BBL as advocated by the MILF is already sparking a sense of unity among the disgruntled Moro groups, particularly in the Sulu archipelago,” Idjirani said.

Cerveza, on the other hand, shared Idjirani’s view that “war could erupt between Malaysia and armed groups fighting Malaysian forces over the Sabah issue.”

“The possibility of (war) is always there,” Cerveza said. “I hope not, but the Sultanate and the Tausugs will likely assert their right to Sabah and Sarawak.”

Last week, several MNLF groups had expressed disappointment over the shifting of position by the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani to the BBL, leaving its previous commitment to the MNLF Jakarta peace accord of 1976.

The OIC has issued at least three resolutions backing the MNLF’s peace accord with the government and urging respect and full implementation of the 1976 Jakarta peace accord signed by its 57-members countries.

NPA rebels abduct two BJMP guards, rescue bomb expert in Surigao del Sur ambush

From the Philippine News Agency ((Apr 29): NPA rebels abduct two BJMP guards, rescue bomb expert in Surigao del Sur ambush

Communist New People's Army rebels abducted two personnel of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) shortly after ambushing BJMP van in a daring rescue of a comrade in Surigao del Sur Tuesday morning.

Capt. Patrick Martinez, of the army’s Public Affairs Division here, said on Wednesday that two other jail guards and a prisoner were wounded during the ambush in Marihatag, Surigao Del Sur.

Martinez did not release the names of the two wounded jail guards, but identified the wounded prisoner as Robert Rivas.

He also identified the abducted BJMP jail guards as SO2 Juan Salazar and SO2 Feliciano Polan, all of the provincial BJMP in Surigao Del Sur, he said.

In a report reaching here Wednesday, Martinez said that the wounded were now undergoing treatment at a hospital in Tandag City.

He said that the BJMP personnel were escorting two prisoners on their way to a court hearing Tuesday morning when waylaid by about 30 fully-armed NPA rebels to rescue one of the prisoners identified as Jojean M. Alameda.

Taken along with the two other BJMP officers, Alameda is reportedly a bomb expert and a high valued NPA officer, Martinez said.

The NPA rebels also carted away two assaults M4 rifles, four 9mm pistols, and on 45 pistols.

Martinez said that the army’s 36th Infantry Battalion has been pursuing the NPA rebels and conduct rescue and retrieval operations for the BJMP personnel since Wednesday.

Police, military teams pursue jail guard abductors in Surigao del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 29): Police, military teams pursue jail guard abductors in Surigao del Sur

Police and military teams are now conducting hot pursuit operations against the armed group who ambushed a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) vehicle transporting inmates on Monday morning at a southern province in the region.

Four were hurt (three jail officers and an inmate) while two jail guards and an inmate were also missing after the incident.

Reports from Surigao del Sur Police to the regional headquarters here said that heavily armed men ambushed a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) 7:45 on Monday morning along national highway, Brgy. Amontay, Marihatag town in Surigao del Sur.

The BJMP vehicle was transporting three BJMP personnel, two provincial guards and two inmates from Tandag City going towards Lianga town to attend a court hearing at the Regional Trial Court. When the party reached Brgy. Amontay, they were ambushed by an undetermined number of armed group.

Wounded during the incident were Jail Officer 1 Denvert Balan, Jail Officer 3 Alfredo E. Galindo, Jail Officer 1 Roger L. Sarpeda and an inmate identified as Robert L. Rivas. Rivas is facing a charge for violation of RA 8294 “Codifying the laws on illegal or unlawful possession, manufacture, dealing in, acquisition or disposition of firearms, ammunition or explosives, and imposing penalties for certain violations thereof and for relevant purposes”, in relation to RA 10591 also known as “Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act”.

The wounded were rushed to the Adela Sierra Ty Memorial Hospital in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur for medical treatment.

Two jail guards identified as Provincial Guards Security Officer 2 (SO2) Feliciano S. Polan and SO2 Juan O. Salazar and an inmate identified as Jojean M. Alameda were missing and believed to be abducted by the fleeing armed men before the reinforcement arrived. Alameda was facing an illegal possession of firearms and explosives under RA 8294 and RA 9516. The suspect was believed to be a member of the armed group who were suspected to be CPP-NPAs and was the subject of their rescue, according to PSupt. Martin M. Gamba in an interview.

Four 9mm pistols, 2 M4s (Baby Armalite) all issued by the government and a Caliber .45 pistol, a personal firearm of SO2 Polan were taken by the armed group before fleeing the area of incident.

Gamba in the same interview said that there were no reports yet received by their office on the moves or measures taken by the local crisis management committee in order to address the recent incident of abduction.

The police regional spokesperson however said that police is also investigating another incident where another armed group blocked a portion of the national highway of the adjacent barangay where the BJMP vehicle ambush just a matter of minutes after the incident took place on Monday morning.

The armed group flagged down and torched a van owned by DOLE, a banana plantation company.

Police reports had it that the incident happened in Barangay Antipolo (and adjacent barangay of Amontay), still in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur.

The van was reportedly traveling from Davao City going towards the town of Tago, of the said province when it chanced upon the blocked portion of the highway, 8:30 Monday morning (45 minutes after the BJMP vehicle ambush) according to police reports.

Police personnel from Marihatag Police Station immediately responded and cleared the highway of the barricades. The report also said that all nearby police stations and Surigao del Sur Provincial Public Safety Company (SDSPPSC) immediately set up a checkpoints at the strategic locations in their areas. The Provincial Crime Laboratory Office processed the crime scene while troopers from the SDSPPSC and troops from the 36the Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army linked up in Brgy. Tagmalinao, Cagwait in the said province to conduct joint and hot pursuit and clearing operations.

American, PHL forces complete two-classrooms in Capiz

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 29): American, PHL forces complete two-classrooms in Capiz

With the conclusion of Balikatan 2015 just a day, teachers and students of Don Joaquin Artuz Memorial School in Tapaz, Capiz expressed their sincerest thanks to American and Filipino military personnel for giving them two-classroom block/concrete school building.

Major Ray Tiongson, 3rd Infantry Division spokesperson, said the completion of this project is part of Balikatan's humanitarian assistance and disaster response activities.

He added that the turnover of the classroom culminated during ribbon cutting ceremonies Monday.

In attendance were ranking American and Filipino military officials, local chief executives of Tapaz and Capiz provincial government, officials of the Department of Education, parents, teachers, pupils and the local residents of Taft village in Tapaz.

Glenda Gervero, Don Joaquin Artuz Memorial School principal said; “The aspiration of the pupils to have the classroom conducive for learning has come into reality, and for what this school will achieve in the years ahead is perhaps the most important dimension.”

She believes that there is no better investment that the individual, parents and nation can make than an investment in quality education.

“Rest assured that we will take good care of this memorable and great building that we have and we are determined to make a difference,” Gervero added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and US Armed Forces worked together shoulder-to-shoulder in constructing two classrooms at Don Joaquin Artuz Memorial School from March 15 to April 27.

Both forces also repaired and repainted classrooms at San Nicolas National High School all in Tapaz town as part of the humanitarian civic assistance portion of the Balikatan exercise in Panay.

This year’s maneuvers focused on training for disaster response and preventive health seminars in order to empower local communities in disaster preparedness, response, relief and rehabilitation.

3 killed, 4 wounded, 13 missing, 50 evacuated in Misamis Oriental encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 29): 3 killed, 4 wounded, 13 missing, 50 evacuated in Misamis Oriental encounter

Three were killed, four wounded, 13 others missing and 50 families evacuated at the height of the fighting between the government troopers and the communist rebels in Misamis Oriental, the military said Wednesday.

Capt. Patrick Martinez of the Army’s Public Affairs Division in Camp Evangelista here, said that two Army soldiers were killed and two others were wounded in the fire fight that erupted in the hinterlands of Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental, Tuesday morning.

He said that the military withheld the names of the fatalities and the wounded pending notification of the nearest kin or family, although the wounded are now undergoing treatment in a military hospital here.

Local government officials identified the lone civilian fatality as Dindo Porsuelo, 30, a farmer of Umagos, Lagonglong, who was fatally hit in the crossfire while tending his farm. Relatives failed to retrieve the body of Porsuelo as fighting continues in the area.

Elements of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC) in Misamis Oriental would conduct a search and retrieval of civilian casualties after the military issued clearance Wednesday morning.

The identities of the wounded civilians are still being checked along with the names of the 13 missing civilians, mostly farmers, who remained unaccounted as of Tuesday evening.

Jojo Bascug, head of the PDRRMC, said that the 50 families evacuated were provided relief assistance by the provincial welfare personnel who went to the area at the height of the fighting.

Bascug said that the relief and food assistance they distributed to each of the families would last for three days.

The military said Wednesday that the fighting has ended Tuesday night, although a team of army soldiers is still conducting clearing the operations in the bordering towns of Lagonglong, Balingasag, and Salay.

Army probes death of coast guard

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 29): Army probes death of coast guard

The Philippine Army is investigating who among the 13 suspected Army soldiers was responsible in the shooting incident that killed a member of the Philippine Coast Guard early morning on April 12 in a bar named “Paraiso ”in Bulan town in Sorsogon province.

Col. Cesar Idio, commander of the 903rd Infantry Brigade based in Sorsogon province, on Tuesday said there are 13 Army soldiers who are now detained in the camp in connection with the death of Coast Guard Vladimir Cabildo Eduarte, 27, a native of Bulan town.

Idio said a rumble happened outside the Paraiso bar between Army soldiers from the 31st Infantry Battalion under his administrative jurisdiction and the group of Eduarte.

He said initially there were only nine soldiers who were identified present in Paraiso bar that night when Eduarte was shot, but further investigation led them to another four soldiers who were also there when the rumble happened.

Idio said the 13 soldiers who are restricted inside the camp have to undergo paraffin test while ballistic test on five guns brought by their soldiers in Paraiso bar was ongoing Monday.

He said two of the guns were found not compatible with the one used in shooting Eduarte.

Idio said there are three more guns to be subjected to ballistic tests.

Bianca Cabildo Jackes, Fil-Aussie cousin of Eduarte, said in a phone interview on Tuesday that the biggest challenge for them to finally file a case in court against the killer/s is/are the witness(es) who can pinpoint the Army soldier who pulled the trigger.

Jackes narrated that the shooting incident happened at about 2 a.m. on April 12 outside the Paraiso bar.

While Army soldiers were on a fistfight with Eduarte and two companions, she said, a man ran at the back of her cousin and shot him once from behind.

The bullet pierced into his right lumbar area and exited through the abdomen.

Jackes said nobody helped her bleeding cousin who fell on the ground until his brother who rushed from their home arrived at Paraiso bar 45 minutes after the shooting.

Eduarte died on the way to the nearest hospital which, she said, is about an hour away from the crime scene.

4 Exercise Balikatan 2015 classroom buildings turned-over; bring hope to ethnic Tagbanua students

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 29): 4 Exercise Balikatan 2015 classroom buildings turned-over; bring hope to ethnic Tagbanua students

Four classroom buildings jointly and combinedly completed by Philippines-U.S. soldiers under the shoulder-to-shoulder bilateral exercise Balikatan 2015 were successfully turned-over Wednesday and Thursday to local school administrations in three barangays in this capital city.

Wednesday’s turn-over at the San Rafel Elementary School (SRES) and the San Rafael National High School (SRNHS) in Barangay San Rafael were draped in cultural and traditional festivities that include performances of folkloric songs, ethnic dances by grateful Tagbanua indigenous peoples (IPs), and the customary Filipino game “palo sebo” (stick/pole grease) gamely competed in by U.S. soldiers.

The classroom buildings, whose construction started March 16, were turned-over as the Exercise Balikatan 2015 prepares to fold all activities to officially end on April 30.

Interestingly, all ribbon-cutting ceremonies on both days used a special kind of scissor – whopping and outsized -- never seen before by the locals, who called it “higanteng gunting,” or giant scissor.

Tagbanua beneficiaries

Tagbanua IP student Caloy Bacane, 11, was thrilled when he learned Tuesday that come opening of classes in June, they would not hold lectures anymore under the Talisay tree following the formal turn-over of two RP-US Balikatan 2015 school buildings in Barangay San Rafael.

"Sobrang saya talaga kasi may bago na kaming classroom (We are really jubilant because of these new classrooms)," the young Tagbanua student told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) after performing "Kendar," an ethnic dance of Thanksgiving for the guests, along with his siblings and father, and grandfather, who performed buoyant melodies out of the cover of the caldron they use to cook rice.

Caloy, who wants to be a soldier, belongs to the Central Tagbanua indigenous community, one of the oldest tribal groups in Palawan.

An incoming Grade 6 student, Caloy goes to school barefoot every day with a pair of old, weary school uniform, said his mother, Zenaida Bacane, 35.

They could not buy him a new pair of slippers or shoes because they are all seven children, and cash is not easy for them to earn as indigenous peoples.

"Mahirap talaga. Katulad naming mga katutubo, ‘yung iba hindi talaga makapag-aral dahil sa kahirapan. Yung iba nakakapag-aral, pero kadalasan lumang-luma na ang mga gamit noong isang taon pa kasi wala talagang pambili (Life here is hard. Like us indigenous people; some are unable to get schooling because of poverty. Some seemed lucky, but most of the time they go to school using old school supplies kept from last year because they have no money to buy new ones)," she said, whose family subsists on fishing, and making and selling roofing materials out of nipa palms (pawid).

Zenaida believes elementary education is the foundation of children on achieving their goals and aspirations in life.

"Kapag maganda ang mga silid-aralan, magiging mataas din ang antas ng edukasyon dito at magiging maganda ang kinabukasan ng mga bata balang araw (When classrooms are conducive for learning, the level of education here in our community will improve, and our children would get a brighter future in their lives later)," she said.

While he appeared shy, Caloy's words represent ardency in him. Asked what he wants in life, in simplicity, he uttered, "Makapagtapos ng pag-aaral, tapos makilala kaming mga netibo, at hind ikakahiyang kami ay netibo (To finish my studies, and ot be recognized as an indigenous people, and to be recognized with respect, and not being embarrassed by who we are).”

The SRES in San Rafael, an outlying area of Puerto Princesa going north, caters over 300 students, 73 of whom are Tagbanua, Palaw’an, and Muslims.

School Principal Miguelita Magbanua told the PNA, "We are so blessed to have this Balikatan, because ever since, it's almost 20 years, if I remember, we weren't able to get new classroom projects from our local and national governments."

Magbanua stressed they used to fit in close to 60 students in one classroom, which was far from the ideal classroom size of 40.

Amidst the scarcity of classrooms in the elementary school, Brigadier Gen. Rodolfo Santiago, assistant BK 2015 director, thinks quality education here is being guaranteed, as testified by 11-yr. old Edmeray Denubo's speech of gratitude at the turn-over ceremony.

"Her speech of gratitude was amazing; that they were given a facility that will enable them in the future to help their fellow men, and that was exceptional knowing it was from a kid -- her articulacy mirrors the quality of education here in San Rafael," he said.

Denubo, the 2015 class valedictorian, told the PNA she wants to be a lawyer someday "to help the poor, and the innocent people, who become the victim of injustice.”

On the other hand, Major Gen. Paul Brief, commanding general of the 4th Marine Division (4MD), United States Marines Corps (USMC) said, "It's been a great opportunity for us and work shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippine forces to build something [such as these] that will have a lasting effect for the community."

"We love to come here in the Philippines because the people here are so friendly and welcoming. We have a long history of working with the Filipinos and we enjoy the opportunity to do it with these great people and community," he added.

Aside from San Rafael, the classroom building at Sitio Sabang, Barangay Cabayugan was also turned-over to the thankful administration of Sabang Elementary School (SES).

With two classrooms, Col. Noel dela Cruz of the 6th Civil Relations Group (CRG) of the Western Command (WESCOM) said it can sit in 40-50 students per room, and can also accommodate a second floor later as it was built sturdily and is climate change resilient.

“This is a very well-constructed school building, and this should help shape better futures for the students here,” Dela Cruz said.

Balikatan 2015 legacy

At the Sta. Lourdes National High School (SLNHS), classmates Jane Rose Beltram and Ma. Christine Ticar, Grade 7 students, could not stop staring at the Balikatan school building, whose construction, they said was “fast.”

“Sa library lang po kami nagkla-klase dati dahil di kami kasya sa room namin. Ang bilis po nilang nagawa (We hold our classes before in the library because we cannot fit anymore in our old room. They were fast in completing them),” the skinny 12-yr. old Beltram told the PNA Thursday at the turn-over in Barangay Sta. Lourdes.

“Masaya po kami na mayroon na kaming classroom (We are happy that we now have a classroom),”Ticar supplied.

Former Sta. Lourdes barangay chairman Roberto Paloma, who is now the vice president of the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) of the SLNHS, and who helped provide personal labor duties to the joint RP-US and Australian soldiers, said it is elating to see the “finished product” of the shoulder-to-shoulder exercise.

“I was here every day to help doing labor tasks as this was our agreement in the PTA. I can’t help but be overwhelmed by how it looks like now, completed and ready to receive the students,” Paloma said.

He added that the school also becomes a part of him. “I helped construct so, I am also proud of the accomplishment of this legacy of our friends from Balikatan,” he said.

Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, the commander of the WESCOM and this year’s Balikatan overall exercise director in the Philippines, said Sta. Lourdes is lucky because out of five school building projects, it was chosen to receive one.

The school, Lopez said, can help in carving bright prospects for the students, and hone them as leaders of the future.“Why classrooms instead of other facilities, such as health centers? Because we saw the need, and even our U.S. counterparts, for a facility that would enhance education among students,” he said in his speech at the turn-over ceremony Thursday.

Lieutenant Gen. John Bonafos, vice chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), who was the special guest, said the Balikatan-constructed school building is among the strongest symbols of cooperation and beyond bounds teamwork of the Filipino and U.S. soldiers, who are committed to help in fostering education so, the world becomes a better, peaceful place.

The newly constructed school with two classrooms are additional to the current seven that the SLNHS has for 325 students from Grades 7-10.

School Principal Vilmalyn Esoy said it’s donation was timely because the school is expanding next enrollment to Grades 11-12

The turn-over was also attended by Maj. Gen. Silvino Alcabasa Jr, chief engineer of the AFP; Maj. Gen. Raul del Rosario, DCS for Plans and Program, J5; Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Santiago, commandant of the AFPCGSC; Commodore Manuel Natalio Abinuman of the Naval Forces West; Brig. Gen. Armando Bañez, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Brigade; Commodore James Meyer of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment; and LCDR Mark Jarrett of the Australian Defense Force among others.