Tuesday, August 4, 2015

WITH ‘CONSULTANTS’ IN JAIL: Communists vow to press ‘people’s war’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 5): WITH ‘CONSULTANTS’ IN JAIL: Communists vow to press ‘people’s war’

Exiled communist party leader Jose Maria Sison said the government’s insistence on the legality of the arrest of an officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) could intensify the armed revolution.

In an online interview on Monday, Sison said the arrest of and denial of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig) status to Ma. Concepcion Araneta-Bocala could only mean that there was no chance for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the CPP.

It also means that the “people’s war” being waged by the New People’s Army (NPA) would continue, Sison added.       
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) on Monday said that Bocala, the alleged secretary of the CPP in Panay Island, was not covered by Jasig which mandates that peace consultants and other holders of immunity pass are exempt from arrest.

Bocala, 64, was arrested along with her nephew and an aide by police and military agents in a rented house in Barangay (village) Calumpang in Molo District, Iloilo City, on Aug 1. She is being held at Camp Martin Delgado, the regional police headquarters in the city.

Law enforcement operation

The Opapp statement said Bocala’s arrest on murder charges was a “law enforcement operation” based on a warrant issued by the Regional Trial Court’s Branch 2 in Kalibo, Aklan province. Since she is not covered by Jasig, there was no violation of the agreement, the statement added.

“As we have consistently held, Jasig is operative only for those personalities of the CPP, the NDFP and the NPA who are using their real names, and those who are recognized by the government as participants in the talks,” the Opapp statement said.

But the NDFP had insisted that Bocala, who assumed the name Remi Estrella, is an NDFP “peace consultant”covered by Jasig.

The peace panel said the failure of the validation mechanism that kept the records of Jasig made it impossible to verify whether Bocala and “Remi Estrella” are one and the same person.

Sison, the CPP founder based in the Netherlands, said the Opapp, headed by Teresita Deles, “had sabotaged the peace negotiations under the last two presidents, Arroyo and Aquino, and has unwittingly contributed to the continuance of the people’s war for national liberation and democracy.”

“Young cadres of the revolutionary forces have been replenishing the ranks of their veteran comrades,” Sison said. “They can continue the people’s democratic revolution and protracted people’s war indefinitely until a negotiated peace agreement becomes possible,” he added.

A list of 75 rebel consultants supposedly with pictures was jointly deposited by the Philippine government, the NDFP and Church witnesses in a Dutch vault in 1996, so it could serve as a future basis for identifying guerrilla consultants immune from arrests.
Two diskettes damaged

But in 2011, both parties discovered that the two diskettes containing the list had been damaged and the details could no longer be retrieved. The damage made it impossible for the government to verify rebel claims that some of their captured comrades were on the roster of guerrillas with immunity from arrest.

Sison claimed that the Aquino administration had blocked the reconstitution of the destroyed documents.

According to the NDFP, of the 528 political prisoners detained in different prisons across the country, 18 were “peace consultants” and Jasig pass holders.

Notable among these detained “peace consultants” are Benito and Wilma Tiamzon whom the government tagged as top officials of the CPP-NPA. The couple was arrested in Cebu in March 2014.


Calamba City Council commends 3 AFP generals

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): Calamba City Council commends 3 AFP generals

Three military generals, who hailed from this city,formally received their respective Plaque of Commendation from Mayor Timmy Chipeco during a flag-raising ceremony here Monday.

The City Council, through a resolution filed by City Councilor Moises E. Morales and was unanimously approved on June 1, 2015, commended Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Brigadier General Arthur P. Ang, Commander of General Headquarters Service Command; Brigadier General Elmer C. Pabale, Philippine Army Inspector General; and Commodore Rafael G. Mariano, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Naval Forces.

Resolution Number 143, Series of 2015 commended the three generals who were born in this city “for their laudable performance in the field of military service” while “giving honor to the city. “

Ang, in a letter sent to the Office of Vice Mayor Roseller H. Rizal, thanked the Sangguniang PanLungsod (City Council) for the commendation, saying, "It has been my lifelong dream to serve the nation and by doing so bring honor to my place of residence, the City of Calamba.”

Furthermore, he said, “To be recognized and commended by this city after having rendered arduous service to our nation warms my heart and shows that I have indeed brought honor to our city.”


Security guard killed, 5 soldiers injured in NPA attack on banana firm in South Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): Security guard killed, 5 soldiers injured in NPA attack on banana firm in South Cotabato

A security guard was killed while five Army troopers were wounded after suspected New People Army (NPA) rebels attacked a base of a banana plantation company in Tampakan town in South Cotabato before midnight on Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Ronald Jess Alcudia, commander of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion, said Wednesday an undetermined number of rebels stormed at around 11:30 p.m. a facility owned by fruit company Global Fruits Corporation/Lapanday Diversified Products in Barangay Kipalbig in Tampakan.

He said a company security guard identified as Melchor Galamagang, who was posted at the compound’s rear gate, was gunned down by the rebels in the initial attack.

The official said their troops assigned at a nearby detachment were able to respond to the scene and engaged the rebels in a 30-minute firefight.

“Our troops and the company’s security personnel were able to hold on and repulse the attack,” Alcudia said.

He said the attackers, who were believed to have suffered some casualties, withdrew towards the mountainous portions of the area.

The wounded soldiers, who were rushed to the South Cotabato Provincial Hospital in Koronadal City, were identified as Private John Paul Salindog and Privates First Class John Ivan Suarte, Danny Mark Tandog, Mohamed Ali and Alfred Albanzar.

Salindog, Suarte and Tandog only sustained minor injuries and were later discharged after receiving treatment.

Ali and Albanzar were transferred to a private hospital here but Alcudia said they were already in stable condition as of Wednesday morning.

Citing their initial investigation, the Army official said it appeared that the attackers mainly targeted the company’s facilities and an aircraft that it uses for aerial spraying.

Lapanday, which maintains banana plantations in parts of the municipality, operate a packing plant and an airstrip at the facility.

Alcudia said that prior to the attack, they received reports that the company had been receiving extortion demands and threats from NPA rebels.

“As early as January, the company was already receiving threats for refusing to give in to the extortion demands,” he said.

The officials said he sent additional troops to the area to help secure the facility and check for possible planted landmines.

He advised residents to be extra careful and look out for possible explosives at the withdrawal route of the rebels.


SC grants writs for leaders of cause oriented groups

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 4): SC grants writs for leaders of cause oriented groups

THE Supreme Court on Tuesday granted the writs of amparo and habeas data sought by leaders of cause oriented organizations who claimed that they were being harassed by members of the military and police.
High Court’s Information Chief Theodore Te said the high court referred the case filed by the leaders of the Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns (Salinlahi) and Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) to the Court of Appeals for summary hearing.
At the same time, the high court also ordered respondents Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to submit their verified return to answer the allegations within 15 days.
“The Court directed the Court of Appeals to immediately set the petition for hearing and to decide the case within 30 days of its submission,” Te said in a press briefing.
The Supreme Court granted the writs prayed for under Section 7 of the Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data and Section 6 of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo which provide that the Court “shall immediately issue the writs if on the face of the petition, it ought to issue,” Te said.
“The court noted that the material allegations of the petition show that the petitioners are entitled to the protection of the writs of amparo and habeas data,” he added.
The petition was filed by Rosalinda Nartates, Antonieta Setias-Dizon, Felicidad Sano, Roman Sanchez, Evelyn Garcia, Hilario Tan, Josefina Delloro, Santiago Dasmarinas Jr., Elvira Prudencio, Manuel Baclagon, Ma. Theresa Gonzales, Benny Angeles, Erwin Lanuza, Oliver Rosales, Juan Alexander Reyes, Generosa Manilag, Hector Juliano, Romeo Manilag II, Raquel Toquero, Madella Santiago and Eilekrenes Manan–union officers of the National Housing Authority, National Food Authority, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority; National Wages and Productivity Commission and Quezon City Hall; personnel of the Courage National Secretariat/Office; and officer of Salinlahi and CRC.
Last April, Sanchez, Sano, Garcia, Nartates and Baclagon received letters from authorities listing down their involvement in the union and alleging that they were linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
On the other hand, a certain Sergeant Borres who introduced himself as liaison officer of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) entered the NFA premises looking for Tan and Garcia. He was carrying a .45-caliber pistol.
“[N]o other conclusion can be reached other than that their lives, security, and liberty are under threat… [T]he incidents establish the participation of state forces, especially that of the military and police establishments,” the petition stated.
It is the Court of Appeals which will conduct a hearing and make a recommendation since the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts.


High speed military sealift command vessel USNS Millinocket arrives in La Union

From Ang Malaya (Aug 4): High speed military sealift command vessel USNS Millinocket arrives in La Union

United States Military Sealift Command joint high speed vessel USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3) arrived in San Fernando, La Union today, August 4, the US Marine Corps said. Task Force Forager, deployed in USNS Millinocket, will be in the Philippines until August 15 providing a medical and engineering assistance.

The said task force embarked aboard the USNS Millinocket is serving as the secondary platform for Pacific Partnership, led by an expeditionary command element from the Navy’s 30th Naval Construction Regiment (30 NCR). USNS Mercy is now en route to Subic Bay from Roxas City, Capiz also for Pacific Partnership 2015.

Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia Pacific Region.

While training for crisis conditions, Pacific Partnership, missions have provided medical care to approximately 270,000 patients and veterinary service to more than 38,000 animals.


United States to defy China in upcoming meeting in Malaysia

From Ang Malaya (Aug 4): United States to defy China in upcoming meeting in Malaysia

The United States will defy China’s request to set aside the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings in Malaysia this week. China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said if ever the WPS issue will be raised China will object.

However, in a press briefing at Washington, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner said US Secretary of State John Kerry is going to have meetings with ASEAN foreign ministers and the WPS issue can be expected to come up in the broader framework.

“Any issue that ASEAN considers important for the security of the region is a topic for conversation. And I think that it’s safe to say developments in the South China Sea are a critical aspect of regional security. So I think it’s natural in that context that they could be raised in ASEAN, in the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) and EAS (East Asia Summit) meetings,” Toner said.

“This is a forum in which critical security issues need to be brought up and discussed, and frankly, as I just said, we believe that developments in the South China Sea meet that criteria,” Toner added.

He added that US and the international community have interests in West Philippine Sea issue. “The claimants, various claimants do, and the international community has interests at stake because it’s a critical waterway.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has tackled the said issue during the 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (Retreat) this afternoon, August 4 in Kuala Lumpur. He also updated his ASEAN counterparts on the arbitration case filed by Philippines against China’s West Philippine Sea claim.

Secretary Del Rosario said China “has taken actions that have threatened freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight and raised the risk of miscalculations if not conflict. The Philippines has been directly affected by harassment of fishing vessels, destructive fishing activities, unilateral fishing ban, and audio challenges against aircraft flying over the South China Sea.”

“The final outcome of the arbitration under Annex VII of the UNCLOS will contribute to the peaceful and long-term resolution of overlapping maritime jurisdictions in the South China Sea,” he added.

ASEAN foreign ministers will be having several meetings with their counterparts in Asia and other regions this week.


China’s airstrip in West PHL Sea can deploy fighters, bombers: Possibly working on second runway

From Ang Malaya (Aug 4): China’s airstrip in West PHL Sea can deploy fighters, bombers: Possibly working on second runway

China’s three-kilometer airstrip at Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reef in West Philippine Sea is now in advance phase of construction. “Beijing continues to pave and mark the airstrip, has added an apron, and is developing additional support facilities,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said.

The Washington-based think-tank said China’s airstrip in West Philippine Sea (WPS) could accommodate cargo, surveillance, fighter and bomber planes. While Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia’s airstrips in the region are only capable for cargo, surveillance, fighter planes. Vietnam’s airstrip in WPS is only capable for cargo, surveillance planes.

China’s airstrip is long enough to land and deploy Chinese H-6G bomber that could perform combat operations within 3,500 miles of the reclaimed reef, AMTI-CSIS added. Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) airstrip “would also be capable of landing and deploying the Chinese Shenyang J-11 fourth-generation fighter, using runway requirements derived from a Russian Su-27 fighter, which would be capable of combat operations within 870 miles of the reef.”

Amid the development in it’s first airstrip in WPS, China could be in the works for its second airstrip in West Philippine Sea. “Recent photos of Subi Reef suggest that China may also be preparing to lay down a second Spratly airstrip there, but no actual paving has been observed,” the think-tank said.

Philippines’ airstip in Pagasa Island – though long enough to land and deploy cargo, surveillance, fighter planes – “is an unpaved, dirt surface with large, dirt aprons and is extremely worn. No major construction or engineering has been observed near this runway in recent years,” AMTI-CSIS noted.


AFP chief reminds troops to be politically neutral

From the Philippine Star (Aug 4): AFP chief reminds troops to be politically neutral

Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri, a a member of Philippine Military Academy class ’83 was appointed as the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. PMA

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri reminded soldiers on Tuesday to stay out of politics as the election fever starts to heat up.

AFP public affairs chief Col. Noel Detoyato said Iriberri had ordered the military to remain non-partisan during his recent visits to ground units.

Iriberri, who assumed as chief of the 125,000-strong armed forces last July 10, has been visiting military unified commands since last weekend. He visited the Western Command in Palawan and the Central Command in Cebu last Saturday and the Tarlac-based Northern Luzon Command last Sunday.

“One of his stern reminders about the election is that soldiers should be non-partisan,” Detoyato said in a press briefing Tuesday.

“It was just a reminder. He took advantage of the visit to remind our troops,” he added.

The battle lines for the 2016 polls are now being drawn with politicians starting to declare their bid for key posts.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, who never concealed his intention to run for president, resigned from the Aquino cabinet last June and has launched the United Nationalist Alliance, the main opposition party.

Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, meanwhile, was endorsed as the presidential bet of the Liberal Party-led administration coalition last July 31.

Interestingly, both Binay and Roxas have connections to the military. Binay is a reserve Marine colonel and is an adopted member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) class ’88.

Roxas, meanwhile, is an honorary member of PMA class ’84.

While the constitution bars the military from dipping its finger in partisan politics, some officers have been dragged in controversies involving alleged poll fraud.

In 2005, some generals were accused of rigging the 2004 poll results after their names were mentioned in the “Hello Garci” tapes. The recordings allegedly detailed the plan to manipulate the vote canvassing to ensure the victory of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was then seeking reelection.

The audio files contained wiretapped conversations between a woman believed to be Arroyo and a poll official believed to be then Commission on Elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.
The woman was asking the election official if she can win by more than one million votes.

During the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal, a report detailing the massive cheating in Mindanao surfaced.

Dubbed as “Sins of the Cavaliers,” the report claimed that poll watchers in Jolo were bribed to leave the canvassing area. Arroyo later on apologized for talking to an election official but did not admit to cheating.

Detoyato assured the pubic that the military would no longer be dragged into a mess similar to the “Hello Garci” scandal.

“We will make sure it will not happen again. The AFP has proven in many instances that it is non-partisan,” he added.


Withdraw reward list vs NDF consultants, gov't urged

From the Philippine Star (Aug 4): Withdraw reward list vs NDF consultants, gov't urged

A group calls on the goverment to resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Rights group Karapatan on Tuesday challenged the Aquino administration to withdraw its "reward system-bounty list" on alleged communist rebels.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said the Departments of National Defense and Interior and Local Government's bounty list weighs heavier than its joint agreement with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on safety and immunity guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

"The GPH (Government of the Philippines) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would gladly violate JASIG and arrest NDFP peace consultants, earn from the reward money than push forward the long-stalled peace talks with the NDFP.

"We challenge the DILG Secretary, whether its Mar Roxas or his replacement, to withdraw the Order on Reward System targeting so-called communists but has proven to have victimized innocent civilians," Palabay added.

Palabay was reacting to the recent arrest of peace consultant Maria Concepcion Araneta-Bocala, whom the government accused of being a communist leader.

She cited that with the arrest of NDFP peace consultants, the government already bagged at least P55 million in bounty.

"These funds would have been more useful when channeled to social services since these are taxpayers' money. The reward system further breeds corruption in the bureaucracy," Palabay said.

On August 1, Araneta-Bocala, or Concha, with P7.8 million bounty on her head, was arrested by joint forces of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Region 6 and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at a house in Juntado Subdivision, Molo, Iloilo City.
Karapatan insisted that Araneta-Bocala is peace consultant of the NDFP for the Visayas region.

Based on Araneta-Bocala's Document of Identification, her assumed name is "Remi Estrella," the group added.

Under the JASIG, persons with document of identification should be immune from arrests and detention in order to perform their duties as peace consultants.

Palabay said that the reward system has been amended in 2012 in recognition of the peace negotiations with the NDFP.

However, despite the amendment which effectively deletes the names of JASIG-covered personalities, Palabay noted that some of the NDFP peace consultants have been arrested and detained by authorities.

"We reiterate our call to immediately release the NDFP peace consultants and resume the peace talks. We also call on the GPH to stop spending huge amount of people’s money in self-serving and unproductive activities," she said.


AFP to deploy more troops in Sulu

From the Philippine Star (Aug 4): AFP to deploy more troops in Sulu

The Abu Sayaff group is reported to be keeping a dozen of captives, including foreign nationals in Sulu. Philstar.com/ File photo

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is carefully studying the deployment of more ground troops to strengthen security and to sustain the relentless hunt against the Abu Sayyaf group still holding about a dozen of captives, a security official said.  

AFP spokesman Col. Noel Detoyato said AFP Chief of Staff General Hernando Iriberri will meet with the ground area commanders here to discuss the possible deployment of more troops in Sulu.

“Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Iriberri will visit the ground anytime and discuss with the commanders possible additional troops in addressing the Abu Sayyaf,” Detoyato said.

At least 12 are still being held captive by the notorious bandit, including Elwold Horns of Holland, Malaysian Thien Nyuk Fun, Cambodian Bernard Then Ted Fen, Korean businessman Noui Hong Sung, and long-time captive Japanese Toshio Ito.

Local hostages include Mayor Gemma Adana of Naga town, Zamboanga Sibugay province, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel Seaman 2nd Class Gringo Villaruz and Seaman 1st Class Rod Pagaling and village chief Roberto Bulagao, who were abducted last May 4 from island resort of Aliguay Island off Dapitan City in Zamboanga del Norte.

The military official said the AFP chief was also concerned on the occasional roadside bomb attacks staged by the Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan despite the ongoing road development.

The attack last July 28 left a soldier dead who accidentally tripped on the wire of the improvised explosive device (IED) along Cabangalan-Lagayas road in Tipo-Tipo town.

Two roadside bomb attacks barely caught the convoy of Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Hataman was on his way to inspect government infrastructure projects in the northern portion of the province last June when the IED went off in Ungkaya Pukan, a few minutes after Hataman’s convoy passed by.

The second attack happened minutes before Hataman’s convoy passed the area to witness the signing of peace pact of six clans involved in armed conflict for decades in Tipo-Tipo.

The military is increasing its patrols in the area to avert similar incident and to allow trading to flourish.


US submarine makes port call in Subic

From Rappler (Aug 4): US submarine makes port call in Subic

The US embassy says the submarine is capable of supporting intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, and strike missions

ADVANCED SUBMARINE? The USS Chicago arrives in Subic Bay as part of its deployment to the Western Pacific US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey Jay Price

ADVANCED SUBMARINE? The USS Chicago arrives in Subic Bay as part of its deployment to the Western Pacific US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey Jay Price

US fast-attack submarine USS Chicago made a port call in Subic Bay on Monday, August 3, as part of its deployment to the Western Pacific, the US embassy said in a statement.

"Chicago has been conducting a multitude of missions to showcase the latest capabilities of the submarine fleet," the embassy said.

The embassy said the USS Chicago is "one of the most advanced submarines in the world" that is home ported in Guam.

It is capable of supporting intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, and strike missions.

It measures 360 feet long and weighs 7,000 tons. It has a crew of about 170 sailors including at least one Filipino American, Logistics Specialist 1st Class Allendale Basa.

“I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with my family in Olongapo City,” said Basa.


China's suspected 2nd Spratlys airstrip 'too close' to Pag-asa

From Rappler (Aug 4): China's suspected 2nd Spratlys airstrip 'too close' to Pag-asa

'It's alarming in the sense that we have a pending case. We are not used to seeing an unfriendly force very near us," Kalayaan town mayor Eugenio Bito-onon tells Rappler

Subi Reef, Spratly Islands, South China Sea. Photo courtesy of Victor Robert Lee/DigitalGlobe   Photo by Victor Robert Lee/Digital Globe

Subi Reef, Spratly Islands, South China Sea. Photo courtesy of Victor Robert Lee/DigitalGlobe Photo by Victor Robert Lee/Digital Globe

China's suspected second airstrip in the disputed Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratly Islands) is causing alarm among Filipino residents of nearby Pag-asa (Tithu) Island.

"It's alarming in the sense that we have a pending case. We are not used to seeing an unfriendly force very near us," Kalayaan town mayor Eugenio Bito-onon told Rappler.

Foreign think tanks have raised concern over satellite photos showing the massive reclamation of Zamora (Subi) Reef located only 25 kilometers from Pag-asa. (IN PHOTOS: Artificial China island can fit 3-km runway)

Pag-asa is occupied by about a hundred Filipinos, who can see with their naked eye the tall cranes on Subi Reef. They spoke of "twinkling" light from the nearby reef visible at night. (READ: Residents of Pag-asa: Life on a disputed island)

"A straight segment of reef that China has filled in with sand can easily accommodate a runway more than 3 kilometers long," said analyst Victor Robert Lee in an article on Medium.

It's supposedly 3,000 meters long or more than twice the length of the runway on Pag-asa Island.(READ: PH runway in Spratly erodes as China reclaims to build own)

Washington-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also released satellite photos showing the massive reclamation of Subi Reef.

Bito-onon said they believe China is not yet done with its construction activities in Subi Reef. "We're expecting more vertical structures onece the soil is already stable," Bito-onon said.

China is already building a 3,000-meter (9,842 feet) runway on Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reef, the longest in the area, which could ultimately be used for combat operations, according to CSIS. (READ: 'China to finish construction of airstrip in West PH Sea this year')

"A Chinese airbase at Fiery Cross Reef would allow for much-improved situational awareness," CSIS said in its website. It could let China deploy maritime surveillance aircraft and fighter squadrons in the area, it added.

"China may be more readily able to use the airbase for patrols or limited offensive operations against other South China Sea claimants, or even United States assets," it said.

Airstrip building in the Spratly islands goes back nearly 40 years. Four other claimants already have such facilities, according to CSIS' Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

But China has been accused of seeking to advance its sovereignty claims with its land reclamation program and tensions have been rising in the South China Sea.

Taiwan is currently upgrading its 1,195 metre airstrip on Itu Aba island, CSIS said.

According to the website, Malaysia has the second-longest runway in the area on Swallow Reef at 1,368 meters. The Philippines' strip is slightly shorter but with an "extremely worn" dirt surface.

Vietnam, the first runway builder in the region in 1976, has the smallest at just 550 meters.

Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam are all members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, as is Brunei, another claimant to the waters.

Apprehension has grown over the militarization of the South China Sea, nearly all of which is claimed by Beijing.

China is pouring massive amounts of sand to expand and fortify small reefs and build facilities which it says are meant to promote maritime and navigational safety and scientific research, as well as military purposes.

Washington has a network of military bases in Asia and conducts active reconnaissance of the area, and has been particularly critical of Beijing's activities, though it has also called on other claimants to cease new construction.

"The US side disregards and distorts the facts, and plays up 'China’s military threat' to sow discord between China and China’s maritime neighbors in the South China Sea," Chinese defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said at a recent monthly briefing.

"We firmly oppose such actions."

China's island-building and construction activities are expected to come under scrutiny during high-level Asian security meetings hosted by ASEAN on Tuesday, which top US and Chinese diplomats will also attend. (READ: South China Sea tensions flare at Asia security talks)

China's navy last week carried out a "live firing drill" in the South China Sea, involving at least 100 naval vessels, dozens of aircraft, missile launch battalions and information warfare troops, state media reported.


South China Sea tensions flare at Asia security talks

From Rappler (Aug 4): South China Sea tensions flare at Asia security talks

(UPDATED) Ahead of the gathering hosted by the ASEAN in Malaysia, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signaled no compromise over its island-building activities

This satellite image shows Sand Cay, the 9th largest island in the Spratlys, as of March 16, 2015. Photo by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe Photo by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

This satellite image shows Sand Cay, the 9th largest island in the Spratlys, as of March 16, 2015. Photo by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe Photo by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe
China was on a diplomatic collision course with some of its neighbors and the United States over its controversial island-building, as regional security talks opened Tuesday, August 4, in Kuala Lumpur.
Beijing is expanding tiny reefs in the flashpoint South China Sea into islands and topping some with military posts to reinforce its claims over the strategic waters, fanning fears of a conflict.

Ahead of the gathering hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that kicked off on Tuesday in Malaysia, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi signaled no compromise.

During a stop in Singapore on Monday, August 3, Wang insisted that the issue should not be raised at the talks, and that China would press ahead with its controversial land-reclamation works.

"China has never believed that multilateral fora are the appropriate place for discussing specific bilateral disputes," Wang told reporters before traveling to Malaysia.

Attempts to bring the issue up are "counter-productive" and "heighten confrontation", he warned.

However US and Southeast Asian officials say the hot-button issue will be raised in Malaysia this week.

In his opening remarks Tuesday, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman took a swipe at Beijing's refusal to address the thorny issue with its neighbors at the talks.
"ASEAN can and should play a vital part in effecting an amicable settlement" on the South China Sea, he told fellow foreign ministers.

"Above all we must be seen to address this issue peacefully and cooperatively. We have made a positive start but we need to do more."

Beijing claims control over nearly all of the strategically important South China Sea, a key shipping route thought to hold rich oil and gas reserves.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – all ASEAN members – also have various claims to the South China Sea, as does Taiwan.

Beijing has long insisted that disputes must be handled on a bilateral basis with rival claimants, rather than with a united bloc.

'New runway'

Adding to the tensions, a Washington-based think tank said this week Beijing could be preparing to build a second airstrip on an artificial island.

China is already building a 3,000-meter (10,000-foot) runway on Fiery Cross reef, which could ultimately be used for combat operations, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Wang rejected calls by some rival claimants and the United States to suspend the land reclamation.

"The freeze proposal may seem even-handed on the surface but it is actually unrealistic and will not work in practice," he said.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario of the Philippines, which has been one of the most vocal critics of China's actions at sea, said on the meeting's sidelines that Manila was checking into the reports of a new runway.

Only Southeast Asian foreign ministers met on Tuesday, but the talks will expand over the following two days into the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry, China's Wang, and envoys from the wider region including Japan, the Koreas, Russia and elsewhere.
Kerry is to meet Wang on Wednesday morning on the sidelines.

He had been due to meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday evening, as both sides grapple with the threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS), but the one-on-one has since been dropped from a schedule provided to journalists.


6th ID facilitates PMA entrance test for 517 aspirants

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 3): 6th ID facilitates PMA entrance test for 517 aspirants

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- More than 500 aspirants to the country's premier military academy took the Philippine Military Academy Entrance Examination (PMAEE) Sunday, the highest number so far, an Army spokesperson said Monday.

Capt. Joann Petinglay, 6th Infantry "Kampilan" Division spokesperson, said a total of 517 examinees arrived to try their luck at joining the country’s premier military school.

Out of 517 applicants, 378 were males and 139 were females.

Petinglay said the number of examinees this year was greater than last year's 400 for Central Mindanao.

The significant increase is caused by the massive recruitment information drives that were conducted prior to the conduct of the exam in the different schools in the area.

According to one male examinee from Kabacan, the help of the 6ID in providing transportation for the examinees had been very helpful for them to be able to arrive at the examination area safely and promptly.

He further said that he dreamed of becoming a soldier because he wants to be like the military men he sees visible in community relations activities.

A team of proctors from PMA headed by Major Aliyah Robles, facilitated the one day exam at the 6ID Gymnasium which ended at about 7:30 in the evening.

The results are expected to be out after a month through the national papers and through the PMA and to be announced on website (www.pma.ph).

Maj. Gen. Edmundo R. Pangilinan, 6th ID chief, said he is hoping that many applicants from this area will pass the exam so that there will be more future AFP officers who can come back to the area and contribute in the Army campaign for lasting peace in Central Mindanao.

The examinees come from the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato.


USNS Mercy docks in Subic Bay to give “smile” to 100 cleft lip/palate residents in Luzon

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): USNS Mercy docks in Subic Bay to give “smile” to 100 cleft lip/palate residents in Luzon

The United States Naval Hospital Mercy is now here to conduct Operation Smile starting on Wednesday until August 13 for the benefit of less fortunate residents in Luzon with cleft lip/palate.

Operation Smile is an international humanitarian organization that mobilizes resources and volunteers to organize international missions to do cleft lip and palate surgeries.

It is a program of Cleft Lip/Palate USNS Mercy Ship International Surgical Mission hosted and organized by the Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF), a non-profit, non-stock non-governmental organization (NGO) that promotes health, education and livelihood programs for the less fortunate communities of Pampanga and nearby provinces in Luzon.

In a statement, May Shilton, the overall mission coordinator and past president of Rotary Club of Mabalacat, said that the mission will accommodate 100 cleft lip/palate patients who will come from Central and Northern Luzon.

Meanwhile, Sylvia Ordoñez, KDF executive director, said cleft lip/palate patients who are operated on at an early stage (six months and above) have a better chance of recovering their ability to speak 100%.

Ordoñez requested all interested patients to come and register at the SBMA Gym located near the Freeport’s Main Gate and Remy Field on Wednesday for screening and decking.

After the said date, the mission secretariat will transfer at the Subic Bay Convention and Exhibition Center (SBECC) where patients will be accommodated prior to boarding the US Navy Mercy Ship which is currently docked in Subic Bay.

For patients coming from Pampanga area may coordinate with KDF-Jesus A. Datu Medical Center (JADMC) in Barangay San Vicente, Bacolor or call 045-4580027 /09175631314/ 09998847060 and look for Dianne or Nerissa for free transportation services to Subic which will be provided on Wednesday.

The Rotary International District 3790, headed by Governor Mai Ocampo and Governor-elect Raul Peralta and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority are the local organizing partners/hosts.

Rotary dedicates itself to humanitarian programs such as cleft lip/palate missions.

The SBMA promotes industries, trade and commerce in Luzon.

In addition, SBMA has social action activities that it considers its Community Social Responsibility (CSR) program to help the less fortunate communities of Northern Luzon.

Patients and their caregivers will be allowed to stay at the SBECC before and after the surgery.


Deputy provincial police chief wounded, nephew dies in NPA ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): Deputy provincial police chief wounded, nephew dies in NPA ambush
The deputy provincial police director of Camarines Sur is now in critical condition in a hospital while his nephew died on the spot in ambush staged by New People's Army (NPA) members at Zone 2, Barangay Salvacion, Bato, Camarines Sur while on their way back to the Camarines Sur Provincial Police Office Monday night.

Seriously wounded was Supt. Romeo Pillonar, married and resident of Zone 7, Divina Pastora, Camarines Sur while his nephew, Domingo Landagan, died in the ambush.

Pillonar's security officer, P02 Ian Dave Ramos, was spared by bullets.

Police Chief Supt. Victor P. Deona, Bicol police director, said the ambush happened at about 6 p.m. Monday.

Pillonar and Landagan were hit by bullets on the first burst of fire, with the latter dying on the spot.

Ramos, on board another motorcycle, sped off and called up his fellow officers with his cellular phone.

Members of the 2nd Maneuver Platoon based in Barangay Nierva, Nabua immediately responded but the rebels had left already.

Combined elements of the Camarines Sur Police Public Safety Battalion and the Philippine Army pursued the fleeing rebels.


Update: 4 rebels, 1 soldier die; 7 wounded in Masbate encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): Update: 4 rebels, 1 soldier die; 7 wounded in Masbate encounter

Four members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and a Philippine Army soldier died and seven others were wounded in a 30-minute firefight between some 30 rebels and the government troopers on Monday afternoon at Barangay Palobandera, Cawayan, Masbate.

Dead was SSgt. Fernando Leynes Jr. while wounded and brought to the Masbate Provincial Hospital were soldiers Corporal Rolly Razalo, Cpl. Ian Abonita and Cpl. Pedro Umdap, and Rogelio Abelita, Joebert Badillo, Adam Fajardo and Gary Vista, whose affiliations were still unknown as of press time.

The dead NPA members have also not yet been identified as of press time and are now at the funeral parlor for autopsy and proper disposition.

Chief Supt. Victor P. Deona, Bicol regional police director, said the encounter started at about 5:40 p.m. while combined elements of the PA’s Bravo Company and the Masbate Provincial Police Public Safety Company were returning to home base after serving a search warrant on a suspect in Barangay Tuburan, Cawayan, who yielded firearms and explosives.

After their operation, the government soldiers were on their way back to their respective camps on board two trucks when the rebels fired at the troops.

The government troopers were able to fire back and engaged the rebels in a firefight that lasted for 30 minutes.

The law enforcers recovered one pistol at the encounter site, along with the four dead rebels.

Earlier before the incident, the troops confiscated one Ingram sub-machine gun rifle and one caliber .45 pistol in Barangay Tuburan, Cawayan, Masbate.

Another platoon from the joint Army-PNP group also arrested two rebels and confiscated one M16 rifle, landmines, laptop and other anti-government documents in Barangay Libas, Placer, Masbate.

Immediate burial and financial assistance will be given to the bereaved family of Leynes while the wounded soldiers have been evacuated to a military hospital for immediate recovery.

Major Gen. Yerson E. Depayso, Army’s 9th Infantry Division commander, said "The joint Army-PNP security operations in Masbate are one of the efforts of the security forces to priority areas wherein the conduct of focused military operations that will result in the clearing of rebel-affected areas."

Masbate and Sorsogon are still to be declared as conflict-manageable provinces in the region, targeted until end of 2016.

Other provinces in Bicol were formally declared "Conflict-manageable and ready for further development" in the late 2014 until the second quarter of this year through partnerships and efforts with other stakeholders. During the encounter, the Deona was in the province as guest of the Provincial Peace and Order Council’s second meeting for the year.

Presided over by Acting Governor Vince Revil, the meeting tackled the peace and order situation of the province, especially the aspects of illegal fishing, illegal drugs and illegal gambling.


City mayor lauds intelligence community for arrest of top ranking NPA official

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): City mayor lauds intelligence community for arrest of top ranking NPA official

Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog on Monday lauded the intelligence community here for providing information that led to the arrest of the alleged secretary-general of the New People’s Army (NPA) Panay Regional Committee.

In an interview Monday, Mabilog said that the arrest of Ma. Concepcion Araneta Bocala, also known as “Concha/Meryl/Etang/Martha” morning of last Saturday at her residence in Juntado Subdivision, Barangay Calumpang, Molo district here was a manifestation that security and movement of intelligence network in the city is “close and tight.”

The arrest of Bocala last August 1 was conducted by the joint teams of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) .

Bocala was believed to be the CPP-NPA-NDF secretary general of Komiteng Rehiyon Panay. A PHP7.8 million bounty was set for her capture.

A statement from the Police Regional Office 6 (PRO 6) stated that Bocala has arrest warrant for murder charges issued by Regional Trial Court 6, Branch 2 in Kalibo, Aklan.


BIFF harasses Army base in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): BIFF harasses Army base in Maguindanao

Suspected members of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) harassed anew a military base in Maguindanao, the Army spoksperson today said.

Capt. Joann Petinglay, 6th ID spokesperson, said the attack occurred at 8 p.m. at the headquarters of 34th Infantry Battalion in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

"Nobody was hurt in the incident, our soldiers are expecting harassment anytime of the day, this is Maguindanao," Petinglay said, adding the 40 mm rifle grenade landed near the gate of the old provincial capitol compound.

The suspects were two men riding tandem on motorbikes who quickly fled toward Datu Unsay town after firing the rifle grenade.

"We expect this from the BIFF, mahirap mahilum ang sugat ng nakaraan (the wounds take time to heal)," she said. The military has reduced the 100 strong BIFF into less than 20 following a month-long air and ground assaults in February.

“We are expecting this as we hope these lawless elements will have a change of heart and help bring about peace in their communities," she added.

“We continue to perform our duties, now that no armed is on going, we focus our attention to helping rebuild school buildings because we believed in the importance of education among Maguindanao children," Petinglay said.


US Military Sealift Command's fastest transport ship to visit La Union

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): US Military Sealift Command's fastest transport ship to visit La Union

The USNS Millinocket (T-JHSV-3), one of the US Military Sealift Command's fastest transport ships, will visit La Union starting Aug. 6.

It will also be hosting a media tour on Aug. 8 at Poro Point, San Fernando City, La Union.

The ship, which has a top speed of 43 knots (83 kilometers per hour), is also home to the US Task Force Forager.

The USNS Millinocket is the third Spearhead-class joint high speed vessel, which is part of the United States Military Sealift Command and was built in Mobile, Alabama.

The ship is the second US Navy vessel to be named Millinocket, the first being a freighter sunk by a U-boat in 1942.

She can transport US Army and US Marine Corps company-sized units with their vehicles, or reconfigure to become a troop transport for an infantry battalion.

It has a flight deck for helicopter operations and a loading ramp that allows vehicles to quickly drive on and off the ship.

The ramp is suitable for the types of austere piers and quay walls common in developing countries. JHSV has a shallow draft of under 15 feet (4.6 meters).

The USNS Millinocket measures 103.0 meters (337 feet and 11 inches) and 28.5 meters (93 feet and six inches) wide.


AFP says no sign of Chinese reclamation works off Scarborough Shoal

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 3): AFP says no sign of Chinese reclamation works off Scarborough Shoal

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced that it is still to detect any activity that would indicate that China is now starting reclamation efforts off Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal which is just 124 nautical miles from Zambales.

This was stressed by AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla Monday.

"We are still to detect any activity that would indicate that they (Chinese) are planning to conduct reclamation works off Scarborough Shoal," he said in Filipino.

And despite the military superiority of China, Padilla said the AFP will continue with its monitoring missions so that the Philippines will not be caught unaware.

Scarborough Shoal's Chinese occupation began in April 10, 2012 when its surveillance ships prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen who were caught illegally fishing endangered marine species.

In the same vein, the AFP spokesperson is urging all Filipinos to unite to protect the country's vast maritime territories as its resources belong to the coming generations.

Earlier, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said China might also plan to reclaim Scarborough Shoal to expand its control of disputed portions off the South China Sea.


5 killed, 3 hurt in Masbate clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): 5 killed, 3 hurt in Masbate clash

Four New People's Army (NPA) fighters were killed along with a trooper from the 9th Infantry Battalion during a clash at Barangay Tuburan, Cawayan town, Masbate Monday afternoon.

Also wounded in the encounter were three soldiers.

Major Angelo Guzman, Southern Luzon Command spokesperson, said the clash took place 4:30 p.m. Monday.

He added that 9th Infantry Battalion troopers along with the Masbate PNP Public Safety Company were headed to their respective headquarters aboard two civilian trucks when fired upon by 20 rebels.

Government forces retaliated and in the ensuing 15-minute firefight, four NPA fighters were killed along with one trooper.

Also wounded in the encounter were three soldiers, Guzman stated.

These men are now undergoing treatment at the Masbate Provincial Hospital.

"The soldiers and policemen were able to perform their immediate action on the supposed ambush and turned the initiative in their favor killing four rebels and recovery of a cal. 45 pistol," 903rd Infantry Battalion commander Col. Cesar M. Idio said.

He said that additional forces and armored military vehicles are now conducting pursuit operations.

The bodies of the slain rebels were brought to Barangay Del Carmen, Uson, Masbate and turned over to local PNP for identification and proper disposition.

Earlier, at 5:10 a.m. Monday, joint military and police elements arrested two NPAs in Barangay Libas in Cawayan, Masbate and recovered an M-16 rifle, 500 rounds of M-16 ammunition, IEDs, laptop and other subversive documents after a concerned citizen reported the presence of armed men.

Southern Luzon Command head Lt. Gen. Ricardo R. Visaya said that focused military operations will continue to intensify against the NPAs and peace spoilers in SOLCOM's priority areas -- Sorsogon and Masbate in Bicol; Oriental and Occidental Mindoro in Southern Tagalog.

"Together with the people of Southern Luzon, we call on the NPAs return to the fold of law, join the mainstream society and embrace peace as our resolve to the decades bloody conflicts," he added.


Army gets new OAPM chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): Army gets new OAPM chief

Col. Alberto C. Desoyo formally took over the Office of the Army Provost Marshall (OAPM) which is located in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City Monday.

The latter office is responsible for the enforcement of discipline, law and order among its military personnel.

Desoyo replaces OAPM officer-in-charge Lt. Col. Moises S. Medina in an assumption of office ceremony, presided by Philippine Army (PA) chief-of-staff Major Gen. Rafael C Valencia.

The OAPM is a special staff of the PA that investigates individual breaches of discipline involving Army personnel; assist judicial authorities; formulates and recommends directives and policies pertaining to investigation; encodes case records on the Discipline, Law and Order Information System; and conducts research and study.

Desoyo is a seasoned and disciplined combat officer having commanded various field units of the Philippine Army, to include, the 8th Military Intelligence Battalion; the 62nd Infantry Battalion; the 12th Infantry Battalion; and the 191st Military Police Battalion, Headquarters and Headquarters Support Group.


U.S. fast attack submarine docks in Subic Bay

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 4): U.S. fast attack submarine docks in Subic Bay

The USS Chicago (SSN-721), a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, arrived in Subic Bay, Zambales on Monday as part of its Western Pacific deployment.

With a crew of approximately 170 crewmembers, the American submarine has been conducting a multitude of missions to showcase the latest capabilities of the submarine fleet.

"It’s an outstanding feeling to see all the hard work the crew invested in maintaining this forward deployed warship rewarded with an outstanding port of call," USS Chicago commanding officer Cmdr. Lance Thompson said.

"The crew looks forward to experiencing many of the diverse activities the Philippines has to offer," he added.

The USS Chicago is the first fast-attack submarine to be built with a vertical launch system.

This allows the U.S. Navy to maintain a constant forward presence capable of strategic action.

"The months leading up to our departure from Guam the crew worked hard to prepare for this underway and have performed well," Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Jamie Manzoeillo, the chief of the boat aboard Chicago, said.

"We now look forward to the opportunity to be ambassadors of our great nation and enjoy some well-deserved liberty in one of the finest ports in the Pacific," he added.

For many crew members, this was their first time visiting the Philippines.

The USS Chicago measures more than 360 feet long and weighing more than 7,000 tons when submerged, the former is one of the most advanced submarines in the world.

This submarine is capable of supporting a multitude of missions including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, and strike.

The USS Chicago is homeported in Guam, where it remains in a forward deployed state of readiness.

The ship has finished extensive and continuous maintenance availability, tactical readiness review and recently completed its second mission vital to national security in 2015.