Friday, December 2, 2016

Outgoing AFP chief successor to look into weapons systems recommendations

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): Outgoing AFP chief successor to look into weapons systems recommendations

The successor of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya, who is scheduled to step down next week, would consider the outgoing chief's recommendations on modernization of the military, particularly on certain weapons systems.

"His (Visaya's recommendation on certain weapons system) will be looked into by the new AFP chief. He (the replacement) will not be starting from zero," AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said in an interview with PNA.

Arevalo said Visaya's recommendations along with the TWGs will be closely looked into prior to acquisition which might boost the military's capability.

Last November, it was learned that Visaya and other ranking military officials visited Israel to look into possible weapons which might be acquired by the AFP.

Israel weapons are considered among the best and sophisticated in the world with Israeli munition companies capable of designing and producing a variety of missile systems.

Visaya is scheduled to retire on Dec. 7 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.

He is a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983 and he started his term as AFP chief last July 1.

As this develops, all three star rank officers in the AFP are included in the list for Visaya's replacement.

This includes Army head Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Joseph Roland Mercado, Eastern Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Leonardo Guerrero, Western Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo Dela Cruz, and AFP vice chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda and Central Command chief Lt. Gen. Raul Del Rosario.

Drug campaign was highlight of Pres. Duterte, US President-elect Trump phone talk

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): Drug campaign was highlight of Pres. Duterte, US President-elect Trump phone talk

The illegal drugs campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte was the highlight of his telephone conversation with United States President-elect Donald Trump on Friday night.

"I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump," the President said of his talk with Trump. "And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem."

According to the President, Trump was "quite sensitive to our worry about drugs".

He said Trump told him the government is doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way, and that the latter understood the way "we are handling it".

"I said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I suppose that what he really wanted to say was that 'We would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country,'" the President said.

Over the many things they discussed, the President said Trump also wished the Filipino people well.
"He extends his warmest regards to the Filipino people," he said. "And I said that, well, we assured him of our ties with America."

"I appreciate the response that I got from President-elect Trump and I would like to wish him success. He will be a good president for the United States of America. I am very sure," he added.

President Duterte further said that Trump invited him to visit New York and Washington DC.

As he mentioned the ASEAN Summit next year, President Duterte said that Trump will try his best to be here.

"He wants to attend the Summit and that would be great for our country," President Duterte said.

New US ambassador vows to continue good relations with PHL

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): New US ambassador vows to continue good relations with PHL

The new U.S. Ambassador-designate to the Philippines Sung Kim said he will continue the good relations between the United States and the Philippines.

"It is really one of America's most enduring partnerships. There are many important dimensions on that relationship. For me, the most meaningful, the most fundamental is the deep bond and the extraordinary warmth between the people of the two countries. I think there is a great deal of respect, affection and admiration between Americans and the Filipinos," Kim said on his arrival speech Thursday night.

The new US envoy said the special relations between the U.S. and the Philippines is evident in the "four million Filipino-Americans who are residing in the United States and 250,000 Americans living and working in the Philippines.”

He replaced Ambassador Philip Goldberg, whose tour of duty in Manila ended this year.
Kim, a Korean -born national before changing his citizenship, said that he is looking forward to playing a key role in sustaining the United States' relationship with the Philippines.

According to the new envoy, he had long wanted to be posted in Manila, citing America's "most important" and "most special" relationship with the Asian nation.

"I have, for a long time, many years have wanted to serve in Manila. So, I am really just thrilled to be finally here and be able to contribute to one of most important, most special partnership anywhere," Kim pointed out.

Kim said he is eagerly looking forward to working with the Philippine government "to strengthen this very important partnership between our two countries."

The native of South Korea grew up in Los Angeles where he attended middle school and high school.

He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and completed a degree in law from Loyola University. He also holds a Master of Laws degree from the London School of Economics

Kim served as a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, Special Representative for North Korea Policy and Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs at the Department of State.

Kim served as US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea from 2011 to 2014, Special Envoy for the Six Party Talks with the rank of Ambassador from 2008 to 2011, and Director of the Office of Korean Affairs in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs from 2006 to 2008.

He also served as Political-Military Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Korea from 2002 to 2006.
He also held positions at posts in Hong Kong, Japan, and Malaysia.

Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Kim was a Deputy District Attorney in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz off to Vietnam

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): BRP Ramon Alcaraz off to Vietnam

One of the Philippine Navy's (PN) latest warships, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16), along with her AW-109E naval helicopter detachment, and 300 officers and enlisted personnel left Pier 13, Manila South Harbor Friday for a port visit to Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay. which will give Filipino naval personnel a chance to interact and train with their Vietnamese counterparts.

Capt. Lued Lincuna, PN spokesperson, in an interview with the PNA, said the mission is headed by Fleet-Marine Ready Force head Commodore Albert A. Mogol.

The port visit will end on December 12. Activities include a courtesy call on the Ambassador, Region 4 Commander of the Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) and Leaders of Khanh Hoa Province Committee.

There will also be PN and VPN hosted dinners/receptions, city tour, Filipino Community fellowship, ship’s tour aboard BRP Ramon Alcaraz and goodwill games with VPN.

Lincuna said the Filipino warship is expected to participate in an exercise with the VPN, practicing drills for code for unplanned encounters at Sea (CUES), communication exercise (COMMEX), Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX), and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

"These exercises will give the PN an opportunity to not only practice what might be called upon to do in any given situation, but also the chance to establish a professional relationship with our allies, making us a more capable force working together at sea," he added.

Aside from strengthening the existing ties and embarking on multiple areas of cooperation with VPN, this visit also intends to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the formal diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam that transpired on July 12, 1976, following the end of the Vietnam War.

During the Cold War, Cam Ranh Bay was home to a major Soviet naval base. It has been controlled by the Vietnamese navy since the Russians withdrew in 2002, strictly restricting foreign vessels' port calls.

Since Cam Ranh Port officially opened to foreign vessels last March 8 of this year, this visit by a PN ship is the first of its kind.

Maute Group has no link to MILF -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): Maute Group has no link to MILF -- AFP

A local terrorist Maute Group has no link to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesman B/Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said on Friday.

"We believe that Maute Group has no link to MILF. There might be some who joined other groups whether BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) or Maute," Padilla said in a press briefing in Malacanang.

The government is talking peace with the MILF as well as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari.

Padilla said there also no confirmation if the Maute Group has direct connection with the international terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.

"We have to have concrete evidence before we can say that a terrorist group has connection with the big group," he said.

Padilla, however, said Maute Group has pledged allegiance to Jemaah Islamiyah, an Indonesia-based clandestine terrorist network that has links to al-Qaeda and allegedly responsible in the deadly 2002 Bali bombings.

He said when Jemaah Islamiyah lost its popularity, Maute Group gave allegiance to Daesh or ISIS with hope of “getting big support.”

Padilla said the Maute Group occupied Butig town in Lanao del Sur last Saturday to create attention from the international terrorist groups including ISIS or Daesh.

The AFP official said the government troops were able to take control of Butig after almost a week of military operations that killed 62 terrorists.

Meanwhile, Padilla clarified that the government is not talking yet to any terrorist group.

"The condition is that we will talk to them for as long as they have the desire to have a new life," he said.

Padilla said the AFP is also considering the statement of President Duterte that he will exhaust all efforts to talk to the terrorist groups including Abu Sayyaf.

"Our only request is that we must not allow this at the expense of justice because those who have pending warrants or who were already sentence in court must answer for the crimes they have committed," he added.

Padilla said for the terror group members who may have been duped “this is an opportunity to bring out the white flag or sent out feelers.”

He, however, clarified that AFP also supports President Duterte’s warning against the local terrorists “not to wait for the 25th hour and for the bells to toll.”

"So the patience of the military and the government has boundary," he warned.

He assured that the AFP has enough resources to run after the terror groups if they will continue to sow criminal and terrorist acts particularly in Mindanao.

"The Armed Forces have deep pockets to go after them and finish them," Padilla said.

AFP urges public vigilance

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): AFP urges public vigilance

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesman Brigadier General Restituto F. Padilla, Jr. called upon the Filipino citizenry to be vigilant in the fight against terrorism and share this responsibility with the Police and the Armed Forces.

“Our call to the public, as we have made yesterday is that we must all subscribe to the tenet that security is a shared responsibility. It is not something that is placed on the shoulders of your police and your military alone. That every community, for it to remain secure, (there) must be a shared task on the part of every citizen,” said Padilla in a press briefing on Friday.

Padilla said the presence of any suspicious person must immediately be reported by the citizens to the authorities stationed in their area such as the barangay watchmen, barangay officials, police or military men.

He underscored the need for unity when he said, ”Kaya nga po kahapon, ang aming panawagan sa lahat ng ating mga kababayan ay lagi pong isaisip na kung nais po natin na ang ating komunidad at ang ating kinaroroonan ay laging safe o maayos, tayo po dapat ay nakikipagtulungan. Sama-sama po dapat tayo.”

The AFP spokesman also said the call for vigilance will continuously be repeated by the authorities until the citizens come to realize that ensuring the security of the community is the common responsibility of everyone.

An update pertaining to the operations of the AFP in Butig, Lanao del Sur was also given by Padilla.
He said the "sentro" or the heart of the Municipality of Butig is well in the hands of government as no other signs of enemy presence have been seen.

The built–up area or most of the buildings that were tentatively occupied by a lot of the local terrorist groups who entered the municipality last week had all been cleared, according to Padilla.

“What remains for us is to clear the outskirts and that operation is ongoing. The sentro itself is well-secured and we are preparing and paving the way to allow the local government to take it back so that their constituents can return to their homes and resume their normal lives,” said the AFP spokesman.
At the same press briefing, Presidential Communications Office Assistant Secretary Marie Banaag aired the government’s congratulatory message to the new King of Thailand.

“The Philippines wishes to convey our warmest congratulations to his Majesty, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, on his ascension and proclamation as the King of Thailand. We are confident that his reign will continue to bring happiness, peace and prosperity to the Thai people. We wish him success as he leads the Kingdom of Thailand," she said.

Pres. Duterte pardons 4 convicted rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): Pres. Duterte pardons 4 convicted rebels

President Rodrigo Duterte has signed an order granting presidential pardon to four communist rebels convicted for murder and kidnapping, the chief of the government peace panel said Friday.

"These rebels have long been recommended for pardon but the previous government did not sign the draft order to release them," said Labor Secretary Silvestre ‘Bebot’ Bello III.

Bello, who also heads the government panel holding peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), said the convicted rebels have already served at least 18 years and up to 26 years.

"We are giving them the justice they deserve regardless of their guilt or innocence. They deserve to be freed," Bello said.

The four prisoners who will walk free anytime today or Monday at the latest were identified as Martin Villanueva, Bonifacio Suyon, Dindo Absalon and Rico Bodina.

All of them are farmers.

Villanueva and Suyom were convicted for kidnapping while Absalon and Bodino served time for murder.

He said former President Benigno Aquino sat on the recommendation of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance, and Pardon (PCBREP) over the release of Villanueva and company.

Bello likewise revealed that three more suspected communist rebels serving time but awaiting final entry of judgment are also due for release pending legal requirements from the courts.

"They cannot avail themselves of a presidential pardon or executive clemency while their appeals are pending and awaiting final entry of judgment," Bello explained.

But he said a draft order is already prepared for their pardon pending submission of their completed case folders.

As this developed, the government peace panel also revealed that the names of 200 detained rebels were already submitted for review and approval by appropriate government agencies.

"But we have recommended the immediate release of 21 sickly detainees, three other elderly suspected rebels and one woman detainee," said Bello, a former human rights lawyer.

He explained that the releases take time because the old guidelines of the PCBREP needs to be amended.

The old PCBREP guidelines only allowed releases on bail, recognizance or pardon for offenses committed on or before 1998, which would not cover those detained during the Arroyo and PNoy administration.

Under the new guidelines, all offenses committed as of July 1, 2016 are now covered by the PCBREP guidelines.

Bello said the release of the four pardoned detainees is part of the continuing commitment of President Duterte to free detained communist rebels.

To date, there are 434 NDF members being held in various detention centers throughout the country.

U.S. Congress recognizes Filipino WWII Veterans, passes congressional gold medal bill

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): U.S. Congress recognizes Filipino WWII Veterans, passes congressional gold medal bill

The Filipino Veterans of World War II (WWII) Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 passed the US Congress after the House of Representatives approved it on November 30.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate on July 13, 2016 and is now one step closer to becoming a law, pending President Barack Obama’s signature.

The Senate version (S.1555) was sponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dean Heller (R-NV), Harry Reid (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Brian Schatz (D-HI). The House version (H.R.2737) was sponsored by Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Joseph Heck (R-NV), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Mark Takai (D-HI), and Jackie Speier (D-CA). Both bills were introduced on June 11, 2015.

The Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. lauds the passage of the bill.

“We welcome this good news and extend our appreciation to all the advocates and supporters of the bill at the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Our veterans’ sacrifice is one of the greatest stories of heroism, courage, and strength that our two countries have ever seen. From ordinary civilians to defenders of free nations, these men and women deserve our deepest respect and gratitude,” said Minister Patrick Chuasoto, ChargĂ© d’Affaires ad interim of the Philippine Embassy, in a statement.

“We also recognize the contributions of the Philippine Consulates General and Filipino communities across the United States, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), and the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FILVETREP) in the success of this joint campaign. We look forward to the final step of President Obama’s signing this bill into law,” Minister Chuasoto added.

The Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 seeks to award a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions in the United States, collectively, to 260,000 Filipino veterans in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II.

U.S. Ambassador-Designate Sung Kim to address YSEALI youth leaders

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 2): U.S. Ambassador-Designate Sung Kim to address YSEALI youth leaders

YSEALI members in all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states will mark the third anniversary of YSEALI on Saturday with a day of service called YSEALI YOUnified.

YSEALI members will conduct more than 100 community service projects across Southeast Asia to advance the key YSEALI advocacies of civic engagement, economic development, education and the environment.

In the Philippines alone, 33 youth-led community projects are planned nationwide, such as agri-entrepreneurship workshops for farmers in North Cotabato, psychosocial therapy sessions for persons with disabilities in Ilocos Norte, and English literacy sessions for out-of-school youth in Sulu.

In Manila, the culminating YSEALI YOUnified event will bring together university student leaders to look at ways to work together to address challenges and opportunities for youth in marine conservation, social media, education and social entrepreneurship.

A select group of youth-led organizations will also showcase their development projects and opportunities through interactive exhibits.

To end the YSEALI YOUnified day of service, YSEALI alumni will screen a wrap-up video highlighting all of the 33 community service projects in the Philippines and highlights of other YOUnified projects throughout ASEAN.

U.S. Ambassador-Designate Sung Kim will provide remarks at 6:30 p.m. at Diosdado Macapagal Hall of Land Bank of the Philippines Plaza in Ermita, Manila.

In 2015, YSEALI members across the Philippines marked the second anniversary of YSEALI with simultaneous YOUnified service projects in 20 cities.

Last year over 300 YOUnified volunteers engaged more than 3,400 Filipino youth on civic engagement and on how to work together to develop solutions to pressing local, national and regional issues.

Launched in 2013, YSEALI is the U.S. government’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. Through a variety of programs and engagements, including U.S. educational and cultural exchanges, regional exchanges and seed funding, YSEALI seeks to build the leadership capabilities of youth in the region, strengthen ties between the United States and Southeast Asia, and nurture an ASEAN community.

YSEALI focuses on critical topics identified by youth in the region, such as civic engagement, environmental and natural resources management, and entrepreneurship and economic development.

AFP mulls deployment of military, police to Butig to prevent another Maute Group attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 3): AFP mulls deployment of military, police to Butig to prevent another Maute Group attack

The military is mulling the deployment of troops or police units to strategic areas of Butig municipality to prevent the Maute Group and other lawless elements from harassing its residents, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla has said.

"Again there are measures that can be employed to secure their safety and security, and these include the deployment of forces (either police or military) to maintain peace and secure the town's outskirts," Padilla said when asked how the government would protect the Lanao del Sur town after it was attacked by the Maute Group last Nov. 26 for the second time. The first was in February.

While Butig town officials and residents are open to the establishment of a military camp in their locality, Padilla said, the proposal is still being considered by ranking AFP leaders and no decision has been made.

As of this posting, an estimated 62 members of the terrorist group have been killed while 37 troopers have been wounded in the military operation against the lawless band.

Butig town has been cleared of all Maute Group elements Wednesday but military units are still clearing the area of improvised explosive devices and other traps laid by the bandits, before they start allowing civilians to return.

Letter of credit for 2 missile-firing frigates being finalized - Navy chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 3): Letter of credit for 2 missile-firing frigates being finalized - Navy chief

The letter of credit (LOC) for the country's first two missile-firing frigates, whose contract was won by Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), is now being finalized, Philippine Navy (PN) flag-officer-in-command, Vice Adm. Roland Joseph Mercado has said.

"As far as I know, they are now finalizing the terms in the LOC, for the frigate project. That's the only update I could give for now," he said in an interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

An LOC is a letter from a bank guaranteeing that a buyer's payment to a seller will be received on time and for the correct amount. In case the buyer is unable to make payment for the purchase, the bank will be required to cover the full or remaining amount of the purchase.

Mercado is the same officer who headed the technical working group that came up with the specifications of the country's first-ever missile-capable frigates.

On Oct. 24, National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana formally inked the contract for the Frigate Acquisition Program, together with officials and delegates from South Korea's HHI. The signing ceremony took place at the PN's headquarters in Naval Station Andrada, Roxas Blvd., Manila.

The project involves the construction and delivery of two missile-firing frigates to the PN.

The signing of the contract signals the start of the construction and is the culmination of the long and tedious procurement process for the project.

As background, the Notice of Award was approved, issued and was duly conformed by HHI on Sept. 13 with the amount of USD336,912,000 or PHP15,744,571,584.

The project is worth PHP16 billion with another PHP2 billion allocated for the acquisition of assorted weapon systems and munitions.

PHL Army shooters win 2 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze medals in ongoing AARM shooting competition

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 3): PHL Army shooters win 2 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze medals in ongoing AARM shooting competition

Philippine Army (PA) marksmen on Friday bagged two gold, one silver, and three bronze medals in the ongoing 26th ASEAN Armies Rifle Meet (AARM) in Capas, Tarlac.

This was disclosed by Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) public affairs office chief, Capt. Alberto Caber, in a message to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Saturday.

Sgt. Rodney Rizano and Sgt. Benito Sumalag earned their gold medals in the rifle and pistol competition categories, he said.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Angelo Bonagua received his bronze and silver medals for the Carbine category Matches 1 and 2 while Staff Sgt. Mar Udan and Pfc. Maria Liza Calubing received bronze medals for the rifle and pistol (male and female) categories.

Head of the 26th AARM Task Force, Brig. Gen. Herminigildo Francisco Aquino, said that the Philippine Army shooting team’s performance this year is far better than the last AARM held in Thailand.

“After this event, we are all winners here. AARM promotes united ASEAN armies. It represents the common aspiration of the ASEAN armies to pursue lasting peace and development in the region,” he added.

The annual shooting competition is participated in by 10 ASEAN countries -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, Singapore, Vietnam, and Myanmar. It will end on Dec. 7, after opening on Nov. 28.

The 2017 AARM will be hosted by Singapore, based on a rotational basis agreement.