Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Panay island plays host to Balikatan 2015

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 9): Panay island plays host to Balikatan 2015

The series of activities for the Balikatan Exercises in Panay Island have started.

Public Affairs Office head Major Ray Tiongson of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division disclosed that the activities in line with the Philippine-United States Balikatan Exercises this year, particularly in Panay Island kicked off this month.

He said that Head Lieutenant Commander Catherine Eyrich, who heads the US Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force for Balikatan Exercise in Panay, emphasized that the joint exercise is to build relationship and continue the active military-to-military partnership between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US Armed Forces.

Tiongson said that the event commenced with the phase I construction of the school building at Don Joaquin Artuz Memorial School, adding that said construction will be until April 11.

He also said that the four-day Basic First Responders training started last April 7, where 105 first responders are undergoing the training at the 3ID headquarters at Camp Macario Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz.

A health seminar will likewise be conducted on April 11 at barangay San Nicolas, Tapaz town, he said.

Tiongson stressed that of the total participants to the basic first responders training, 82 are military personnel from the 3ID-Philippine Army, 13 reservists from the 6th Regional Community Defense Group and 10 personnel from the Capiz Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office.

The training, he said, aims to promote and enhance the capabilities of both the Philippines and US Armed Forces in terms of humanitarian and civic assistance during disasters and calamities.

A series of lectures and practical exercises on basic life support, primary medical care, rescue procedures, and mass evacuation simulation among others will be conducted by the United States Cooperative Health Engagement Team led by Captain Jennifer Brown, a medical doctor in the US Army.

The succeeding activities for Balikatan Exercise in Panay include the Civil-Military Operations Exchange Seminar at Camp Peralta for 3ID personnel, as well as Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Seminar.

For his part, 3ID Commander Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero pointed out that the training will provide the participants with capabilities so they can properly respond and provide assistance in rescue, relief, recovery and rehabilitation in times of disasters or calamities.

Guerrero also urged the trainees to be serious in their participation so they would be able to apply their knowledge when the time calls for their response.

More troops sent to keep BIFF away

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 9): More troops sent to keep BIFF away

Another battalion to establish gov’t presence in areas cleared of rebs

DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao—Apparently learning its lesson, the military is sending more soldiers to villages in Maguindanao that had been cleared of renegade Moro rebels to establish government presence in these areas, according to military officials Wednesday.

In the past, while government forces succeeded in overrunning villages converted into camps by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), soldiers had not been deployed to stay in the areas and keep these free of renegade rebel presence.

BIFF is a group that broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after MILF agreed to enter into a peace agreement with the government that was made possible partly by MILF’s decision to drop its demand for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao and accept a proposal to expand Moro autonomous rule.

Next week, an additional battalion of soldiers would be sent to Maguindanao not only to reinforce soldiers running after remnants of BIFF, but also to establish government presence in areas already cleared of renegade rebels, according to Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson.

The soldiers’ mission would include running after other lawless elements in Mindanao, said Petinglay.

The armed forces launched an all-out offensive against BIFF in February, about a month after 44 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF), 17 Moro guerrillas and three civilians were killed in a SAF operation to capture or kill international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan” on Jan. 25 in the town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.

As a security policy, the military won’t disclose the number of soldiers deployed in the operation to neutralize BIFF but a battalion consists of at least 800 men.

Petinglay said aside from helping secure BIFF camps overran by government forces in recent days, the additional soldiers would help in other tasks.

The additional soldiers, Petinglay said, would not only help “eliminate the BIFF but also help local government officials in bringing development to conflict affected areas.”

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th ID chief, earlier said former strongholds of BIFF would be transformed into developed communities with government forces providing security to the people.

“These troops will eventually help in the construction of the different peace and development projects that will be implemented for the people in the affected areas.” he added.

The military scaled down the war on BIFF on March 30, telling hundreds of thousands of villages who fled their homes that it is now safe for them to return.

At the end of the full-scale offensive, Petinglay said at least 141 BIFF members were killed, 57 were wounded and 12 were either captured or surrendered.

“So, based on this record of casualties, what is left of the group could be less than a hundred,” she said.

Petinglay, however, said the military figures were just estimates.

Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said at a recent visit here that the operation against BIFF had not been terminated despite the apparent defeat of the renegade rebels.

Catapang said there would be a continuing and focused operation against lawlessness in Maguindanao.

Man behind mayor’s abduction named

From Tempo (Apr 9): Man behind mayor’s abduction named

The brother of the slain leader of a notorious kidnap-for-ransom group operating in Zamboanga Sibugay and nearby areas is believed to be behind the abduction of Naga Mayor Gemma Adana on Sunday night.

Abral Abdusalam, brother of Waning Abdusalam who was killed in 2011, was identified by witnesses as one of three heavily-armed men who barged inside the mayor’s house near the shoreline, according to local police.

Sources said Abral may have assumed leadership of the criminal group used to be headed by Waning.

The kidnap-for-ransom group has amassed a huge sum of money that it was able to build a fortified camp in the town of Payao.

In October of 2011, combined police and military forces flushed out Waning’s group using air and naval assets. Waning was injured during the assault.

Months after the clash, the wife of Waning sought the assistance of an imam (roughly equivalent to a Mosem priest) for the burial of her husband in Zamboanga City.

For the third straight day, police and military forces continued to search for the abducted local chief executive.

Military reports indicated that the suspects may be heading to Sulu or Basilan to escape.

Basilan and Sulu are known to be lairs of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). In the past, there were cases that some armed groups would kidnap victims in mainland Mindanao and brought them to ASG.

The arrangement is that the ASG would be the one to negotiate for the ransom and the armed men who operated the kidnapping would get their share.

Sought for comment, national police spokesman Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo, Jr., said they expect filing of appropriate charges against the perpetrators.

He also disclosed that a Crisis Management Committee (CMC) was already created to handle the unconditional release or safe rescue of Adana.

Adana was entertaining female visitors from Bukidnon at home when heavily-armed men, wearing bonnets, interrupted the merrymaking and dragged her into a motorized banca.

New US Defense chief: Newest and most capable weapons will go first to Pacific region

From Ang Malaya (Apr 8): New US Defense chief: Newest and most capable weapons will go first to Pacific region

The new Defense Secretary of United States reiterates that America is a Pacific power and will remain one. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said being a Pacific power US is doing more.

The newest and most capable weapons systems will go first to the region. When movements are completed, he said, 60 percent of the U.S. fleet will be in the Pacific-Indian Ocean area. Carter assumed office February 17 this year.

He said, at the John McCain Institute in Arizona, US strengths in terms of economy, security and diplomacy “are multiplied by America’s unrivaled network of allies and partners – These ties, tended to with careful diplomacy, are what make America’s global strength so unique throughout history and today.”

Secretary Carter also noted that U.S. and Philippine governments are working on ways to strengthen military-to-military cooperation.

Philippines and US have entered into a Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, however, the agreement’s constitutionality is currently being questioned in the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

It was reported that F-35, Zumwalt-class destroyer and armed P-8 maritime patrol aircraft will be deployed first in the Pacific. “Pacific Air Forces are going to have our most advanced weapons, to include stealthy, long- range attack missiles and longer-range air defense missiles,” US Deputy Defense Secretary Work said. “The Navy is going after a new long-range anti-ship missile, which will allow it to engage ships at standoff ranges.”

MILF leadership still an issue

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 9): MILF leadership still an issue

A MARANAO leader, whose family was deeply involved in the Bangsamoro movement, questioned on Wednesday the legitimacy of the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front even as lawmakers questioned the true identities of the people who are seeking a historic agreement with the Philippine government.

Lawyer Firdausi Abbas, a member of a Maranao royal family that was among the founders of the Moro National Liberation Front, questioned whether the incumbent MILF chairman, who now calls himself Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, was even the true leader of the organization.
The hearings continue. MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal
takes his oath during the resumption of the hearings on the
Mamasapano encounter on Jan. 25, in which 44 police
commandos were killed, at the House of Representatives.
Manny Palmero
“There was an irregularity in the MILF chairmanship after the death of MILF founder Salamat Hashim on July 13, 2003 in Lanao del Sur,” Abbas told The Standard. “Al-Hadjj Murad Ibrahim assumed the leadership without the concurrence of Salamat himself.”

Abbas said Salamat actually wanted Abdul Asiz, the second most senior MILF official, to succeed him in the event of his death and “the appointment of Asiz in the top leadership was contained in Salamat’s last will and testament.”

But Murad, who was then the No. 3 MILF leader as vice chairman for military affairs, assumed leadership of the organization without the concurrence of the MILF Central Committee, accrording to Abbas who was at the wake of Salamat until he was buried in Butig, Lanao del Sur.

“Murad was present at the time of death of Salamat and they hurriedly buried him and Murad subsequently assumed the position of Salamat without respecting the will and testament of Salamat appointing Asiz as chairman,” Abbas said.

“It should have been Asiz. This was the instruction of Salamat that the MILF leadership would be given to a Maranao,” Abbas revealed, referring to one of the largest Muslim tribes in Mindanao along with the Tausugs of Western Mindanao and the Maguindanao of Central Mindanao.

Abbas said Asiz, who was deeply offended by Murad’s supposed betrayal, opted to remain quiet and stay at Camp Busra in Lanao del Sur until his death three years ago.

“Asiz was terribly saddened by the events, but he remained quiet because he did not want to destroy the MILF,” Abbas said.

Asiz, according to Abbas, even saved Murad when President Joseph Estrada ordered a massive military offensive against the MILF that led to the fall of all MILF camps. “Only Camp Busra survived the hostilities.”

Abbas questioned the credibility of Murad, Ghadzali Jaafar and Mohagher Iqbal because “They were not even revolutionaries. I don’t know where these people came from. [But] now they are claiming to be revolutionaries.”

“They were not in Mindanao when the bloodiest battles erupted in the 1970s so how can they claimed they are revolutionaries,” Abbas said.

Abbas made the remarks as congressmen, who are conducting an investigation of the Mamasapano incident, questioned why the MILF leadership could not use their real names in what could potentially be the most important peace agreement in Mindanao.

The real names of the MILF leaders became a key issue after MILF peace negotiator Iqbal admitted using aliases but refused to reveal his real name to congressmen.

“I have so many names and that is natural in revolutionary organizations,” Iqbal said during a joint hearing of the House committee on public order and safety joint and committee on peace, unification and unity on the Mamasapano incident.

Replying to a question from Ang Nars Rep. Leah Paquiz, Iqbal compared himself to Filipino hero Marcelo del Pilar, who used nine aliases during his lifetime, but he insisted that he is a Filipino citizen and a Bangsamoro “by entity.”

Negros Occidental Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer then asked Iqbal to show his passport, but Iqbal declined claiming certain “sensitivities.”

“Because of security reasons, my name on the passport is known only to the government. I travel a lot -- maybe hundred times. But I’m not hiding my name on my passport,” he said.

Instead, the MILF executive said he will ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to provide the Lower Chamber with information regarding the name indicated on his passport.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, for her part, affirmed that Iqbal uses a Philippine passport issued by the DFA in leaving and entering the country.

Earlier, Professor Miriam Coronel Ferrer, chair of the government peace panel, admitted Iqbal is using an alias but she also declined to reveal his real name.

Justice Secretary Leila also defended Iqbal’s use of an alias and said that did not mean that the documents pertaining to the peace process were not valid.

De Lima’s statement came upon the inquiry of Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop who sought an explanation from members of the government peace panel on the supposed government stand on the use aliases in public documents.

“We’re dealing with the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which is based on documents signed by Iqbal in using this nom de guerre. This is a ticklish issue and I hope government can come up with a stand in terms of legality with the use of noms de guerre,” Acop said.

In response, De Lima said the only exception to the prohibited use of aliases is if it is for literary purposes and if the person has admitted that the alias is his nom de guerre.

“If the person using the nom de guerre does not deny, that his nom de guerre is in fact the one who signed the document, then I don’t see the validity of the document becoming an issue,” De Lima said.

But De Lima was quick to say that the law does not authorize the use of different names in public documents.

She also echoed Iqbal’s position that the use of aliases is a common practice among revolutionary groups.

MILF warns of lawlessness if Congress fails to pass Bangsamoro law

From GMA News (Apr 8): MILF warns of lawlessness if Congress fails to pass Bangsamoro law
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has warned of dire consequences for Mindanao and the Philippines if Congress fails to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) even as it vowed to “stay on the course of peace” if the deal falls through.

At the House of Representatives’ third hearing on the Mamasapano debacle Wednesday, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal on Wednesday enumerated a handful of scenarios that might happen if the Bangsamoro bill remains a proposed piece of legislation until the end of the Aquino administration.

“First, we will miss the opportunity, and it’s been said that opportunity knocks only once. That opportunity will sometimes not come up again. Second, frustration will rise above normal levels. Uncertainty will give way to lawlessness in Mindanao,” he said.

Frustration over Congress’ failure to pass the proposed BBL, Iqbal warned, might worsen the peace problem in the South.

Discussions on the proposed BBL in Congress have been stalled in Congress following the Mamasapano debacle that resulted in the loss of lives of more than 60 individuals, including 44 Special Action Force troopers.

Aside from aggravating the situation in Mindanao, Iqbal warned of forthcoming uncertainty in the economy and international arena should the BBL bill remain stuck in the 16th Congress.

“We don’t know if the international communities, especially those involved in the infrastructures of the peace process will stay on or withdraw. I’m talking about the International Monitoring Team, the international contact group, International Decommissioning Body and many others,” he said.

“Finally, the economic growth of this country will be much affected. Investors will shy away,” Iqbal added.
17 years

The MILF executive said that the pursuit of peace had come at a high cost, with the negotiations lasting 17 years over the terms of four presidents.

Despite the grim scenarios he painted, the MILF executive said the MILF is determined to pursue the path of peace even if the Bangsamoro bill isn’t passed.

“Rest assured the MILF will continue in the pursuit of peace in Mindanao,” he said.

For her part, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said the peace process should not fall through because of the Mamasapano debacle.

“Let's not make this a choice between justice and peace. It should not be an either-or situation,” she said.

Nightclubs off-limits to US soldiers during Balikatan —source

From GMA News (Apr 9): Nightclubs off-limits to US soldiers during Balikatan —source

The United States military has barred their participants in this year's Balikatan exercises from visiting night clubs and bars.
"(They are) barred from establishments that just sell drinks and night clubs are strictly off limits," a source who is a US military officer said. 
The official who is part of planning the Balikatan exercises said that the US service men are allowed to eat in local restaurants, only when they are walking distance away from their hotels. 
The American participants of the Balikatan must also go back to their quarters not later than 10 p.m. 
The source warned that those who will violate the restrictions will face disciplinary actions. 
"If someone violates this policy during Balikatan, they will be held accountable," the official said. 
The source said that the restrictions are just in adherence to the policy of the United States Pacific Command to limit the liberty of the US service men when they are in the country. 
The policy was issued after US Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton was tagged as the suspect in the murder of the Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude in October 2014.
The official said the policy is in effect until the Pacific Command finds better ways to protect the US service men from "dangers and threats" while in the Philippines. "Until they find a solution, the current provision is there is no liberty."
Balikatan 2015 is the first major bilateral training between the Philippines after the killing of Laude. It will be held on April 20-31 to be held in various locations including Camp O’Donnell and Crow Valley in Tarlac, Subic Bay, and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.
At least 6,000 American solders are expected to join the Balikatan. They will bring 76 aircraft and three ships while the Philippines will have 15 aircraft and one ship. 
On top of the usual military exercises, members of the Philippine and US armed forces will also have joint humanitarian assistance projects in Zambales.

New images show China’s reclamation on Panganiban Reef in West Philippine Sea

From GMA News (Apr 9): New images show China’s reclamation on Panganiban Reef in West Philippine Sea

Newly published satellite images show that China is quickly reclaiming land around a submerged reef within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, with several dredgers in operation and seawalls built.

The work on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef is China's most recent reclamation in the disputed Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). Reclamation is well advanced on six other reefs in the Spratlys, Reuters reported in February, activities that have alarmed other claimants and drawn criticism from Washington.
A March 16 image published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) shows what it said were a chain of small artificial land formations as well as new structures, fortified seawalls and construction equipment along Panganiban Reef.
Several dredgers are also present while the entrance to the reef had been expanded, the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative said on its website.
An image from Feb. 1 showed a Chinese amphibious transport naval vessel about several hundred meters from the reef's entrance. CSIS said such a ship was capable of holding up to 800 troops and as many as 20 amphibious armored vehicles.
Surveillance photos taken of Panganiban (Mischief) Reef in October and seen by Reuters showed no reclamation work.
In an interview with Japan's Yomiuri newspaper published on Wednesday, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter expressed concern about China's reclamation in the Spratlys.
"We are especially concerned at the prospect of militarization of these outposts," said Carter, who is in Tokyo on his first visit to Asia as defense chief.
Beijing rejects criticism of its activities around the reefs, saying the work falls "within the scope of China's sovereignty."
While the new islands will not overturn US military superiority in the region, Chinese workers are building ports and fuel storage depots as well as possibly two airstrips that experts have said would allow Beijing to project power deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.
The Philippines first said in February that Chinese dredgers had started work at the reef, located 135 km (85 miles) west of Palawan and within the country's exclusive economic zone.
China claims the entire South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on a waterway where $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes annually.
China occupied Panganiban (Mischief) Reef in 1995. The October photos showed two structures, including a three-storey building sitting on an atoll equipped with wind turbines and solar panels. 

US warns vs militarization of territorial disputes

From Business World (Apr 8): US warns vs militarization of territorial disputes

US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter kicked off his first Asian tour on Wednesday with a stern warning against the militarization of territorial rows in a region where China is at odds with several nations in the East and South China Seas, including the Philippines.

Mr. Carter’s visit to Japan coincides with growing US concern over China’s land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago of the disputed South China Sea, where Beijing has rival claims with several countries including the Philippines and Vietnam.
Tokyo and Beijing have a separate row over Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea.

US and Philippine troops will take part in annual military exercises this month near the Spratlys in the largest such drills since the allies resumed joint activities in 2000.

Asked whether the beefed up US-Philippine exercises were a response to China’s moves, Mr. Carter said Washington and Manila had shared interests in the region, including a desire to ensure there were no changes in the status quo by force or that territorial rows were militarized.
“We take a strong stance against the militarization of these disputes,” Mr. Carter told a news conference after talks with his Japanese counterpart, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani.
Chinese reclamation work is well advanced on six reefs in the Spratlys, according to recently published satellite photographs and Philippine officials. In addition, Manila has said Chinese dredgers had started reclaiming a seventh.

While the new islands won’t overturn US military superiority in the region, Chinese workers are building ports and fuel storage depots as well as possibly two airstrips that experts have said would allow Beijing to project power deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.
The commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Harry Harris, told an Australian think tank last week that China was using dredges and bulldozers to create a “great wall of sand” in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the potentially energy rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.


Mr. Carter also welcomed progress toward the first update in US-Japan defense cooperation guidelines since 1997, a revision that will expand the scope for interaction between the allies in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to ease the constraints of Japan’s pacifist constitution on the nation’s military.

“It’s going to give first of all Japan, but also our alliance, much greater scope to provide security in the region, and for that matter elsewhere outside of the region,” Mr. Carter said as the talks began.

Mr. Abe’s move to allow Tokyo to come to the aid of an ally under attack would pave the way for closer cooperation between US and Japanese forces across Asia, Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, said last month.

In January, Mr. Thomas said the United States would also welcome Japanese air patrols in the South China Sea.

Mr. Nakatani told the news conference with Mr. Carter, however, that the new guidelines did not target any particular region including the South China Sea.

Neither Tokyo nor Washington have territorial claims in the South China Sea, but the US Seventh Fleet operates in the area and any Japanese presence would irritate Beijing.

In a written interview with Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper published on Wednesday, Mr. Carter expressed concern about China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea.

“We are especially concerned at the prospect of militarization of these outposts. These activities seriously increase tensions and reduce prospects for diplomatic solutions,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “We urge China to limit its activities and exercise restraint to improve regional trust.”

Mr. Carter also repeated Washington’s opposition to any “coercive unilateral” actions by China to undermine Japan’s administrative control of disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing: “We hope the US side can respect the wishes of China and relevant countries to resolve the problem via dialogue, say more responsible things and make more responsible moves, so it can genuinely play a constructive role in maintaining regional peace and stability.”

Mr. Abe’s government plans to submit bills to parliament in the coming months to ratify his cabinet’s decision last year to allow Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defense, the biggest shift in Japanese security policy in decades.

As charges loom, MILF to invoke ceasefire agreement

From ABS-CBN (Apr 8): As charges loom, MILF to invoke ceasefire agreement

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the Moro group will invoke the ceasefire agreement once the Department of Justice (DOJ) finds probable cause to charge its men over the Mamasapano clash.

Appearing for the first time at the House hearing on Mamasapano clash, Iqbal acknowledged that the DOJ is now readying criminal charges against the men who killed the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last January 25.

''The trail of the statement of the secretary of justice is leading towards that direction. We will invoke the ceasefire agreement. Whatever the ceasefire agreement says then we will have to follow that,'' Iqbal said.

''We signed it with honor and with the intention that we will abide by it."

Asked to interpret Iqbal's declaration, government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer said following the ceasefire agreement would mean the prosecution of the possible MILF respondents for violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).

DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima earlier in the hearing said the DOJ may use both the IHL approach and the common crimes approach.

Using the common crimes approach would mean that the respondents will be prosecuted under the Revised Penal Code.

Under the IHL approach, the respondents would be recognized as non-state actors in a non-international armed conflict and be prosecuted for violations of the IHL.

Ferrer said all the ceasefire violations committed during the Mamasapano clash refer to the elements of the IHL. She said the Philippines adopted the IHL through Republic Act 9851.

De Lima earlier explained that MILF elements charged under IHL would qualify for amnesty, which she said is part of the transitional justice component of the peace process.

In its own report on the Mamasapano clash, the MILF said it may have committed a failure in intelligence when terrorists Marwan and Usman – the subjects of the January 25 raid - managed to find haven in an area near an MILF stronghold. However, citing the ceasefire guidelines, it insists that only the MILF can discipline its erring men.

The MILF maintains that the SAF troopers violated the ceasefire when it failed to coordinate the operation with the Moro group and the ceasefire bodies.

Peace process 'unjustly blamed' for Mamasapano: Ferrer

From ABS-CBN (Apr 8): Peace process 'unjustly blamed' for Mamasapano: Ferrer

[Video news clip]

Government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer on Wednesday expressed before the House of Representatives her disappointment over the negative impact of the January 25 Mamasapano incident on the peace process.

Addressing the lawmakers present in the third House hearing on the Mamasapano tragedy, Ferrer noted that many of them had actually expressed support for the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) before the bloodbath in Mamasapano occurred.

Most of them also attended the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in Malacañang in October 2012 and March 2014, respectively, she said.

"Now suddenly with the Mamasapano incident, it is as if it was the peace process that caused all of these casualties or even the breakdown of this kind of unity between the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) as far as law enforcement operations are concerned," Ferrer said.

"What we are seeing here is that the peace process has been the victim of this unfortunate incident," she added.

"The peace process has been unjustly blamed for whatever happened in Mamasapano on January 25," she said, lamenting that they were not even made aware of and had no role in the anti-terror operation of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF).

"In the last two and a half months, we have suffered a lot. The whole country has suffered a lot. The peace process, especially, has suffered a lot."

Forty-four troopers of the SAF who were out on a mission to neutralize terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Basit Usman were killed following an encounter with members of the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and other private armed groups.

The encounter, which happened despite the ceasefire agreement between the MILF and the government, has raised doubts over the sincerity of the Muslim rebel group in the peace process.

It has also put in peril the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress. The BBL seeks to create a new Bangsamoro region to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Lack of coordination among the PNP, AFP, MILF, and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), as called for by the mechanisms under the ceasefire agreement, has been blamed as one of the factors that led to the bloodbath.

According to Ferrer, the unfortunate incident, which also saw 17 MILF fighters dead, could have not happened "if certain protocols were observed, and that kind of trust and cooperation were respected among the different actors responsible particularly for the law enforcement operation."


She cited the AFP's recent all-out offensive against the BIFF in Maguindanao, which, she said, had "very good results" due to "very good cooperation."

She said over 100 members of the BIFF were killed and 10 high-ranking officials of the Justice Islamic Movement (JIM), a splinter group of the BIFF, were arrested. On the other hand, the AFP suffered only 12 casualties.

"That is a very big difference from the kind of operation that we saw taking place in Mamasapano last January 25," she said.

Ferrer said it is not their mandate to identify who are the people responsible for the operation which ended in the bloodbath, but said she hopes they will be "man enough" to stand for their actions' consequences.

"If we are woman enough to stand up for this peace process, we hope the men who were responsible for this law enforcement operation will also be man enough to stand for the consequences of their decisions and the risks that they decided to take in order to conduct this operation," Ferrer said.

Did US drone help in Mamasapano operation? Napenas hedges

From ABS-CBN (Apr 8): Did US drone help in Mamasapano operation? Napenas hedges

De Lima says US involvement not wrong

As the House continued to probe into the Mamasapano incident, former Special Action Force (SAF) chief Getulio Napeñas hedged on whether the United States deployed a drone in the operation to get suspected terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Basit Usman.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, however, maintained that based on existing information, there was nothing illegal in the involvement of the US.

Upon questioning by Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, Napeñas declined to go into details as to what the Americans set up as part of assistance when they joined him in the tactical command post.

But he did confirm that the US counterparts gave real-time information on the ground especially in the main effort of the 84th special action company or the seaborne which went after Marwan.

"Tama po iyon. Hindi ko alam kung nakikita yung ibang location pero kita ang 84th SAF. Tama po, mataas ang field of view pero nakatutok sa 84th SAF," he said.

Zarate tried to get Napeñas to confirm if it was a drone that was supplying the information. Napenas hedged.

"May I request kung pwede sa executive session?" he said.

Napeñas admitted again that they got assistance from US counterparts. On Tuesday, he said he had gotten a map from US counterparts. However, he denied there was an American casualty.

"Unang-una, yung casualty, namatay na American troops, walang katotohanan. Nabanggit ko na walang involved sa combat operations. Ang pagtulong ng Amerikano nag-umpisa sa Zamboanga, may training assistance na tinatanggap. If I may, pwede ma-discuss sa executive session. I request matters sa US involvement and support ma-take up in executive session."

He also confirmed there were six American personnel in the tactical command post. However, he said he only saw two.

"Isa kasama ko galing GenSan, almost 8 p.m. Later may dumating, dagdag. Hindi ko alam ilan dumagdag, pumasok isa, naging dalawa sa TCP gabi ng January 24. Unknown to me six pala sila, sasakyan nasa labas, gabi sila dumating. Nasabi ko sa Senate inquiry dalawa lang nag-set up sa loob ng TCP. Di ko nakita may kasamahan sa labas, makes it six... Nadagdagan the following day nung nagkaroon ng medical evacuation nung dumating yung casulaties," he said.


De Lima, later on in the hearing, explained that any consideration of US involvement should be subject to legal parameters of the Constitution: foreign military bases in the absence of a treaty, freedom from nuclear weapons, independent foreign policy and non intervention.

"Kung titingnan ang mga lumabas na impormasyon about possible role, readily apparent that presence of US personnel does not per se any transgression of legal parameters... Lumabas ano type or nature of US involvement in Mamasapano incident, lumalabas po is on intel aspect, intel information to our own security forces and number 2, medical aid pagkatapos nang nagkaroon na ng casualties," she said.

"No arguable long as government exercised control over operations as indeed it has when it chose to abort previous operations, we cannot surmise any instance of unsolicited US intervention," she added.

"Bottomline is ability of Philippine government to determine for itself extent of US involvement and full exercise of control...exercised all throughout, under facts so far established."


Also upon questioning by Zarate, Napeñas reiterated that the operation cost more than P300,000 from the regular budget of the SAF. This, amid reports special funding came from either the Office of the President or the United States.

Napeñas said, "Nasabi ko na rin sa Senate inquiry more than P100,000, sa aktuwal na accounting is P300,000, kasama pangkain at pang-hotel. I was informed binigyan ng pambayad ng van, gasolina, pangkain ang tropa. Solely sa operating expenes ng SAF."

Zarate, however, doubted the figure. "Kayo nag-move nasabi kahapon 392 personnel mula Luzon papuntang Mindanao. Tantiya ko, kung P300,000, kulang talaga. Sa pamasahe pa lang, milyon na. Sabihin na natin 392 personnel from Luzon to Mindanao P8,000 pamasahe, aabot P3.2 million. Paano napagkasya and P300,000 or P400,000?"

Napeñas argued that only a handful of them came from Luzon, and the rest were sourced from units in Mindanao so they just travelled by land.

"Yung marami na ginamit kapulisan naka-deploy sa Davao del Sur, North Cotabato, General Santos. Sila nag-by land. Yung galing Zamboanga nagrenta ng sasakyan by land," he said.

Grenade blast rocks mall site in Zamboanga

From ABS-CBN (Apr 8): Grenade blast rocks mall site in Zamboanga

A grenade exploded inside a cement warehouse in Zamboanga City early Wednesday morning, police said.

A grenade exploded inside a cement warehouse at the construction site of Citymall along Don Alfaro Street in Tetuan, Zamboanga City.

No one was reported hurt in the incident.

Authorities recovered the safety lever and fragments of a suspected MK2 grenade at the scene.

Investigation on the incident is still ongoing.

New People’s Army rebels surrender to 10ID

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): New People’s Army rebels surrender to 10ID

Three members of the New Peoples Army (NPA) surrendered to the 57th Infantry Battalion on Monday afternoon.

In a statement sent by the Philippine Army, the three rebels were based in Magpet, North Cotabato and were identified as Ar-Ar Sumagaysay Egad, Supply Officer, Squad Uno, Pulang Bagani Command- Southern Mindanao Regional Party Committee (PBC 2-SMRC), Ramil Ali Umanan, Team Leader, Squad 3, PBC 2-SMRC and Jenelyn Aloy Saud, Medic, Squad 3, SRC 3- SMRC.

This brings the total number of NPA surrenderers to 37 since January 2015 in the area of 10th Infantry Division alone.

They will be enrolled to the government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) to help former rebels in their reintegration to the mainstream society.

Major General Eduardo M Año, Commander of the 10TH Infantry Agila Division, lauded the influx of NPA surrenderees.

“We encourage others and expect more surrenders because a truly peaceful and productive life is here in the mainstream society- not in the CPP-NPA’s weary world of lies and atrocities,” Año said.

“There is no point for the NPA rebels in waging the useless and violent armed struggle that has only caused unnecessary sufferings and counter-productive results to our communities. Instead, let us all unite and together win the peace here in Davao Region,” Año added.

Troops pursue retired soldier's abductors in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): Troops pursue retired soldier's abductors in Sulu

Troops are pursuing a group of gunmen, suspected to be members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), who seized a retired soldier off Pangutaran, Sulu, a military official disclosed Wednesday.

Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) information officer, identified the victim as Marine MSgt. Renato Fernandez (ret.)

Muyuela said Fernandez was seized around 9:15 p.m. Monday in the municipal waters of Pangutaran, an island town in the province of Sulu.

Muyuela said Fernandez was aboard a motorboat named ML RJ Express when forcibly taken by four gunmen, who pretended to be among the motorboat’s passengers.

The gunmen transferred Fernandez to one of two motorized bancas and sped to unknown direction.

Troops from the Joint Task Group Sulu in coordination with the police forces have yet to locate the victim.

Naval patrols ongoing to determine whereabouts of abducted Zamboanga Sibugay mayor

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): Naval patrols ongoing to determine whereabouts of abducted Zamboanga Sibugay mayor

The military is conducting naval patrols off the coastal waters of Zamboanga Sibugay in a bid to locate Naga town Mayor Gemma Adana who was abducted by still unidentified lawless elements Monday night.

This was stressed by 1st Infantry Division public affairs officer Major Cris Mugot in an message to the PNA.

He added that the naval patrols are now being conducted in the hope of getting a trace or whereabouts of the gunmen who snatched Adana.

Mugot said that these clues, once uncovered, can help government security troops in determining the exact location of the victim.

House-to-house searches were conducted in Barangay Mamagon in an effort to locate the abducted official Tuesday.

Military officials earlier there are no indications that the Abu Sayyaf Group took part in the abduction of Adana.

No ransom demand has been made yet by the suspects.

Adana was seized around 9:15 p.m. Monday in Barangay Taytay Manubo, Naga Zamboanga Sibugay.

The victim was eating with her family members when three gunmen clad in masks barged in and took her at gunpoint.

The gunmen then dragged Adana to the shoreline and forced her into a motorized banca which sped off towards an unknown direction.

CMC, task group activated to address Zambo Sibugay mayor's abduction

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): CMC, task group activated to address Zambo Sibugay mayor's abduction

A Crisis Management Committee (CMC) as well as an Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) were activated to handle the abduction case of a lady town mayor in the nearby province of Zamboanga Sibugay, a top police official disclosed Wednesday.

The CMC is chaired by Zamboanga Sibugay Gov. Wilter Palma while Senior Supt. Jose Bayani Gucela, heads the SITG “Adana” which was named after the surname of Mayor Gemma Adana of Naga municipality.

Adana was seized by gunmen brandishing high-powered firearms around 9:15 p.m. Monday from her residence in Barangay Taytay Manubo, Naga, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Gucela disclosed they discussed updates of the incident to include intelligence, investigation and operation updates pertaining to the incident when SITG Adana was activated.

Gucela said that Adana, her family and visitors were “having sort of happy hour through video-k singing at her residence” after they ate dinner when six gunmen clad in camouflage uniforms arrived unnoticed.

Gucela said five of the gunmen mixed with the group of the mayor while the other one stayed at the motorized banca since Adana’s residence is just near the shoreline.

“Subsequently at gun point three of the suspects went directly to Mayor Adana and forcibly grabbed and brought the victim at the back portion of their house and embarked to the boat then sped off heading towards high seas of Naga Municipality,” Gucela said.

“Combined PNP/AFP operations were immediately mobilized to conduct hot pursuit operations,” Gucela added.

Julius Cayon, Naga municipal councilor, said Adana’s husband even tried to come to the rescue of his wife but was overpowered by the gunmen.

Cayon, who was designated as the CMC spokesman, said no group has claimed responsibility over the incident as well as no call nor demand was made.

Gucela said investigation continues in a bid to identify the suspects and to file appropriate criminal case against them.

Meanwhile, Gucela said that they were advised to work silently due to sensitivity of the case.

ARMM govt agencies, Army continue extending aid to displaced families in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): ARMM govt agencies, Army continue extending aid to displaced families in Maguindanao

Humanitarian aid for internally displaced persons continues to be provided by the government concerned agencies as well as the military.

On Tuesday, volunteers from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), soldiers and civic groups jointly conducted relief operations in the Market Area of Talayan town in Maguindanao which served as temporary homes of thousands of IDPs displaced by armed conflict in Maguindanao's 13 towns.

The Army launched law enforcement operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters which already claimed the lives of 151 Moro armed men and 10 government forces.

Fighting has waned since March 31 when the military terminated the massive operations but vowed to continue small scale offensive to fully neutralize the BIFF.

Displaced folks are reluctant to return to their homes, worried that BIFF bandits could return and rebuild camps in their villages again.

But Capt. Joann Petinglay, speaking for the regional Army unit, said the military has established positions in all former BIFF stronghold in Maguindanao's four adjoining tows of Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak, Datu Shariff Saydona and Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

Maguindanao's 13 municipalities have been placed under state of calamity to maximize the government's relief and rehabilitation efforts in conflict-wracked areas.

The latest relief operations were jointly initiated by the Anak Mindanao (Amin) Partylist, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division and the ARMM's Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART).

ARMM-HEART has been spending P2 million a month for relief food supplies of about 120,000 displaced persons.

But about 25,000 evacuees have already returned home after the Army gave the go signal that it was safe for them to go back home.

Tuesday's relief operation was also assisted by the' Kaya Natin' Movement for Good Governance, a non government organization actively supporting the national government's peace process in southern Philippines.

Amin Partylist Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman lauded the military for providing relief assistance and sending in manpower to make the relief distribution easy and manageable.

Petinglay said the Army is now focused on helping IDPs as well as helping their shattered communities due to atrocities committed by the BIFF.

Military doctors also helped the Department of Health in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao attend to the daily health needs of IDPs.

Dr. Kadil Sinolinding Jr, DOH-ARMM regional secretary said at least 90,000 persons remain in evacuation sites in Maguindanao, about 9,000 of whom were pregnant women.

The only child has died in evacuation center and two civilians wounded in the armed conflict.

Health Sec. Janette Garin who visited Maguindanao for three days lauded the health providers, the front liners in humanitarian dislocation in Maguindanao, for a job well done.

Fort Magsaysay's 670 hectares devoted to high quality bamboo production

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): Fort Magsaysay's 670 hectares devoted to high quality bamboo production

FORT RAMON MAGSAYSAY, Palayan City, Nueva Ecija -- The Philippine Army's 7th Infantry Division (7ID) has forged an agreement with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (DENR-ERDB) to utilize 670 hectares of this vast military reservation in bamboo propagation, the military reported on Wednesday.

Capt. Mark Ruelos, chief of the 7ID public affairs office, said the memorandum of agreement (MOA) provides that the area will be used to produce high quality planting material in support to National Greening Program (NGP) of the government.

The planting site will also be used for the plantation of a total of 305,400 high quality planting material/seedlings.

The 20,400 bamboo propagules will be planted for the first 100 hectares while the 285,000 indigenous clones and seedling will be planted to the remaining 570 hectares.

Major Gen. Glorioso V. Miranda, 7ID commanding general, and Henry Adornado, acting director of DENR-ERDB, signed the MOA for the formalization of the planting of 305,400 quality planting materials in the designated 670 hectares plantation area.

The first launching in this military reservation of the “Adopt a Giant Bamboo” project which serve as good sources for livelihood of soldiers, CAFGUs and the civilians in the communities, was held on July 30, 2014 with National Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin and Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje as the guests of honor and speakers.

Army division personnel honor fallen soldier in Maguindanao clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): Army division personnel honor fallen soldier in Maguindanao clash

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- Soldiers from the Army's 6th Infantry "Kampilan" Division on Tuesday bade goodbye to a young soldier who died on Easter Sunday from injuries after a firefight last week with Moro bandits in Datu Saudi town in Maguindanao.

The cadaver of slain Pfc. Marlon Reyes was airlifted to Manila en route to his place of origin, Batangas City.

The slain infantry man belonged to the 14th Mechanized Company of the 1st Mechanized Battalion based in Shariff Aguak. He was among the troops hunting down outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

He died on Easter Sunday at a military hospital here.

Reyes was one of three soldiers wounded in a two-hour firefightwith BIFF in Barangay Pagatin, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Led by 6th ID officer in charge colonel Arnel dela Vega, soldiers gave Reyes plane-side honors at the Awang Airport loated beside the 6th ID headquarters.

“He was a very jolly person when not in uniform but very determined and dedicated in his duties as soldier," said Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the 6th ID.

About 151 BIFF bandits, including three sub-commanders and 10 government forces were killed in the four-week military law enforcement operations in Maguindanao.

It also displaced 120,000 persons in Maguindanao's 13 of 36 municipalities. About 90,000 remained in evacuation centers after some have returned home.

Army undergoes 13-year character enhancement program

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): Army undergoes 13-year character enhancement program

CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan de Oro City -- About 100 army personnel underwent the first of the eight module enhancement classes at the army headquarters here, an army officer said Wednesday.

Col. Andres Bonifacio Belleza, Office of the Army Chief Chaplain Service (OACCS) chief, said that the character enhancement class has eight modules, which is scheduled for completion in 2028.

Maj. Christian Uy, 4ID spokesperson, said that the first activity that focuses on character development of each soldier started Monday.

He said that day-long class discussed, particularly in balancing all aspects of life, especially on duty to God, Country, Service and Family.

Uy said that the Office of the OACCS conducts the character enhancement class participated by all major units of the Philippine Army under the 4ID.

The first module of the character enhancement workshop discusses the subject about becoming the “Heroes for God and Country,” Uy said.

He said that the 13-year character enhancement program is in line with the “Army Transformation Roadmap’s Base camps.”

Topics discussed during the first day class were Roadblocks to Greatness; Defending our Families, Building our Homes; and Forgiveness-a key to Success and Victory.

The seminar also included a workshop and sharing of successful and inspirational life stories, Uy said.

“I hope that this activity will help our soldiers to give premium on having a happy, wealthy, and healthy family while putting God at the center of everything. These will greatly improve the performance and service of every soldier,” Belleza said.

Maj. Gen Oscar T. Lactao, 4ID commander, has expressed the confidence that the classes will mold a God-fearing, family-oriented soldiers, and a true servant of God, country and the people.

The character enhancement program is a milestone in the quest towards our vision to have a world-class Army that is a source of national pride, Lactao said.

He said that the division will cascade the same training down to the army Brigades and army Battalions levels.

NGO decries arrest of 13 IPs mistaken as rebels, sought CHR probe

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): NGO decries arrest of 13 IPs mistaken as rebels, sought CHR probe

A non-government organization (NGO) on Wednesday has decried the arrest of a family of 13 indigenous people (IP) in Bukidnon and urged the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to conduct a probe.

Roger Plana, Secretary General of Kalumbay Regional Lumad organization, an NGO of IPs in Northern Mindanao, has also expressed apprehension over the military’s unabated harassment of the members of tribal communities in the region.

He said that the arrest and detention of Jovito Anlagan Sr, Emely Anlagan, Charlito Eslaw, Jovito Anlagan Jr. along with three other civilians and five minors at the Manolo Fortich Police station, in Bukidnon followed after the massacre of four IPs in Misamis Oriental last February 2015.

The Anlagan family was on their way to Cagayan De Oro City when arrested by the police at a checkpoint in Alae, Manolo Fortich, on the evening of April 5 (an Easter Sunday), Plana said.

He said that the Anlagan family together with other Higa-onon farmers fled from their village in Sil-ipon, Libona, Bukidnon after Anlagan, Sr. has a verbal tussled with an army officer who tried to arrest Anlagan, Jr. early in the day.

Plana said that the elder Anlagan demanded from the army personnel “warrant of arrests” from the six soldiers who reportedly barged into his house in search of his son.

In the course of a heated argument, the unidentified army officer reportedly punched the elder Anlagan prompting the family to leave for fear of other untoward incident, Plana said.

He said that the military then tagged the Anlagan family as members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) on knowing that the eldest son Melvy Anlagan is a full-time staff of Kalumbay.

Melvy Anlagan said she advised her parents to leave their home on the evening of Easter Sunday to seek refuge as the army officers reportedly harassed them on several occasions.

The police in Manolo Fortich flagged down the vehicle where the Anlagans were on board in a checkpoint in Alae and reportedly recovered firearms inside the vehicles.

The police said that the suspects are reportedly NPA members who could not present documents to prove ownership of the firearms, which resulted in their arrest and detention.

Melvy Anlagan denied that her parents have firearms and sought the help of Kalumbay to look into the case of her parents.

Plana said the Kalumbay wants the CHR to conduct a probe into the alleged abuses perpetrated by the military on the members of the Higa-onon tribes who are ordinary farmers.

US, PHL troops jointly conduct 'Balikatan' exercises in Capiz

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 8): US, PHL troops jointly conduct 'Balikatan' exercises in Capiz

Troops of the United States of America and the Philippines have jointly started the conduct of a series of disaster response trainings in the province of Capiz as part of the "Balikatan Exercise 2015".

Report reaching here Wednesday afternoon said the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Exercise has formally took off on Tuesday thru the Basic First Responders Training held in Camp Macario Peralta, headquarters of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry (Spearhead) Division (3ID) based in Jamindan, Capiz.

Close to 105 participants that included 82 military personnel from the 3ID, Philippine Army, 13 reservists from the 6th Regional Community Defense Group and 10 personnel from the Capiz Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Council participated in the training.

The US and Philippine troops will also conduct a series of practical exercises in basic life support, primary medical care, rescue procedures and mass evacuation simulation as well as seminar in civil-military operations exchange and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Lieutenant Commander Catherine Eyrich, head of US Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force for Balikatan Exercise in Panay, said the joint exercise aims to continue the active military-to-military partnership between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and US Armed Forces particularly in humanitarian and civic assistance in times of tragedy and calamity.

Capiz was chosen as venue for the joint US-PHL Balikatan Exercise 2015 considering that the province is one of areas in the region that was devastated by the super typhoon Yolanda in November 2013.