Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Northern Luzon Command participates in 'Water Rescue Olympics'

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21): Northern Luzon Command participates in 'Water Rescue Olympics'
In a bid to gain more knowledge about rescue missions in the water, the Tarlac City-based Northern Luzon Command announced that it has joined in the ongoing "Water Rescue Olympics" in Monte Cruz Resort, Barangay Sto. Niño, San Felipe, Zambales.

Major Gina Daet, Northern Luzon Command spokesperson, said the activity started Wednesday and will culminate on the Friday.

She added that they have deployed three teams to participate in the event.

The guest-of-honor and speaker during Wednesday's opening ceremonies was Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane.

Other participants in "Water Rescue Olympics" came from different government, non-government units and uniformed services.

Live Saving, Boat Capsizing, Rubber Boat Operations and Water Rescue Relay are the four events in the competition.

Marine units in Sulu conduct security patrol to prevent criminal activities

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21): Marine units in Sulu conduct security patrol to prevent criminal activities
Marine units, on security patrol, have engaged and inflicted an undetermined number of casualties to lawless elements they have encountered in Barangay Panducan, Pangutaran town, Sulu on May 19.

Reports forwarded by Capt. Ben June Cerbo, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, Thursday, stated that the firefight took place at 10: 20 a.m.

Troops who took part in the 25-minute firefight are from the Naval Task Group Sulu which are composed of two special operation platoons.

Cerbo said that no losses were sustained by government forces while an undetermined number of the brigands were wounded.

Clearing operations ended at 3:20 p.m. of the same day.

Law enforcement operations are continuously being conducted to deter criminal activities in Sulu.

(Special Report) PHL presence off WPS to continue despite tensions

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21): (Special Report) PHL presence off WPS to continue despite tensions

Despite ongoing tensions at the West Philippine Sea, soldiers and civilian residents manning Filipino-owned features in the Spratlys Island Group, especially those living in Pagasa, have expressed willingness to defend their fishing ground and vast maritime resources against illegal fishers and intruders.

Pagasa (known as Thitu internationally) is one of the islands lying in the disputed West Philippine Sea.

Out of the seven island and three reefs being controlled by the Philippines, Pagasa is the largest measuring 37.2 hectares.

Other Philippine possessions in the Spratlys include Likas Island which measures 18.6 hectares, Parolo Island, 12.7 hectares, Lawak Island 7.93 hectares, Kota Island, 6. 45 hectares, Patag Island, 0.57, Panata Island, 0.44, Rizal, Balagtas and Ayungin Reefs.

Mary Joy Batiancila, Pagasa Island administrator, said that fisherfolk in the locality are deeply concerned with the illegal fishing activities being done by foreign fishermen around the island.

She said these illegal fishermen, particularly the Chinese and Vietnamese, were always seen using unauthorized means in fishing around Pagasa Island.

Batiancila said the Philippine Coast Guard, Pagasa barangay officials and their fishermen would regularly chase or warn these illegal fishers away.

“They are engaged in blast or dynamite fishing. They also use cyanide,” she added.

Batiancila said these illegal activities are ruining the natural ecosystem and physical makeup of the “bahura” or the coral reefs around Pagasa Island.

“This leads to a drop in the fish catch or incomes of our own fishermen,” she said.

Kalayaan town mayor Eugenio Bitoon-on said that these illegal fishing activities made local officials of Kalayaan and Palawan alert and concern over the condition of the marine ecosystem in the West Philippine Sea.

The presence of such illegal fishing activities endangers the West Philippine Sea which is considered as one of the richest fishing grounds of the Philippines.

Batiancila said the area around Pagasa alone is abundant with turtles, dolphins, manta rays and various kinds of fish.

Pagasa is surrounded by around 20 to 30 hectares of rich coral reefs home to aquarium and commercial fish.

It provides livelihood and food for Pagasa’s more or less 200 dwellers. It is often visited by rare types of turtles like the endangered leatherback.

Just some three nautical miles away from Pagasa is the sandbar Pagasa Islanders call the “Secret Island”, Batiancila said.

The island is also home to teeming marine life which the Islanders are keeping watch over.

Pagasa is the nearest neighbor of Subi Reef, which is only 25.7 kilometers away.

Subi Reef is now included among the areas in West Philippine Sea where the Chinese government is doing massive reclamation activities by building structures on and around it, destroying corals and hectares upon hectares of coral reefs in the process.

Bitoon-on said the Chinese seem bent on transforming the reef into a man-made island.

Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen often visit Subi Reef and the Secret Island to gather giant clams from the area.

Batiancila said recent surveys by Coast Guard and the local government revealed that there is a decline in the number of giant clams in there.

“We cannot perform arrests against them even though we have the maritime police with us. We do not have facilities and transportation to stand against them,” she said.

Batiancila said that the least their authorities could do is to chase away the illegal fishermen that they could.

“But we can never engage them,” she said.

Despite not having the right facilities, the people of Pagasa and the local officials of Kalayaan and Palawan expressed utmost support in protecting the natural treasures of West Philippine Sea.

Bitoon-on said he is thankful for the support that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Coast Guard give to the people of Pagasa.

He said he is confident that the people of Pagasa are secure and safe in their homes on the island.

He said among the projects of the municipality is creating a tourism route through West Philippine Sea which will include Pagasa Island.

Bitoon-on added that the new industry would help generate more jobs and income for the people of Kalayaan Group of Islands.

AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, during his May 11 visit to Pagasa Island, called on the people to continue supporting the claims of the Republic of the Philippines on the West Philippine Sea and all the islands in it.

“This is ours!” was the battle cry of AFP for the disputed territories.

He said the AFP is willing to support the agenda of enlivening tourism in the West Philippine Sea. He said Pagasa Island and the reefs around it alone has enough to offer for both domestic and international tourists.

He also assured that the AFP will remain protecting the island and its surrounding waters against any threats.

As this develops, Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez said Filipino pilots under him will continue their sovereignty patrols.

This is despite seven incidents involving Chinese monitoring platforms challenging Filipino aircraft.

"We told the pilots to answer them (Chinese) the correct way. That they are navigating in international airspace and we are doing our normal air patrol missions," he added.

Lopez also said that they are not scared by these incidents and stressed that they are not cowed by the challenges.

The Western Command chief said that Chinese attempts to challenge Philippine maritime patrol flights started last April 19.

Another challenge was reported on May 10, Lopez said.

Lopez also clarified that the no-fly zone over Subi Reef, where a Chinese reclamation project, does not legally exist.

"There is no such thing. Again, it's an international airspace. (We have) freedom of flight," he added.

The Western Command chief said that Chinese reclamation progress in Subi Reef is very fast as only patches of work can be seen last Feb. 25.

"If you will base it from the last flight that we had (there)sometime Feb. 25, (It is now big) Before (only) patches (can be seen). (Now you can see) solid connections)," he pointed out.

In line with this, Lopez also urged Filipino fishermen to continue asserting their fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal as it is legitimate Philippine territory.

"Our message (to Filipino fishermen despite the purported Chinese harassment) is to continue going there (because) it is ours.That's a traditional fishing country," he added.

He made this appeal especially to those fishermen based in Northern Luzon.

China gain control of Scarborough Shoal after a tense stand-off with the Philippine Navy in April 2012.

At the same time, Lopez said that there is an average three Chinese Coast Guard ships off Scarborough Shoal.

These vessels are deployed there with the sole purpose of driving away Filipino fisherfolk.

He also stressed that they are still to detect any Chinese reclamation efforts in the vicinity.

Scarborough Shoal has been placed under the operational jurisdiction of the Palawan-based Western Command in February 2014.

This was done through the orders of then Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista.

"The area of Bajo De Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) has been transferred from the Northern Luzon Command to the Western Command, this is to enhance our external defense capabilities which is now being concentrated at the Western Command and unity of effort and command so that our external defense efforts will just be under one commander and that is the Western Command commander," he added.

MILF group frees 3 people abducted in Lanao del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (May 20): MILF group frees 3 people abducted in Lanao del Sur

The members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have released the three people they abducted two months ago in Lanao del Sur, a military official said Wednesday.

Capt. Ben June Cerbo, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) acting information officer, said the victims were freed shortly after 12 a.m. Sunday in Barangay Bualan, Balindong, Lanao del Sur.

Cerbo identified the released victims as Omainah Cuno, Jabbar Mimbala and Maisara Mangoranca, who were abducted last March 16 in Barangay Gandamato, Ditsaan Ramain, Lanao del Sur.

Cerbo said the victims were abducted by the group of Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (BIAF-MILF) commander Haji Malik.

He said Malik’s group released the victims following pursuit operations and prior coordination with the peace mechanism of the MILF-Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (MILF-AHJAG) by the Joint Task Force Zampelan.

Police intel officer killed in ambush; girl wounded by stray bullet

From the Philippine News Agency (May 20): Police intel officer killed in ambush; girl wounded by stray bullet

A police intelligence officer died on the spot when unidentified armed men ambushed him in Barangay Gabao, Irosin, Sorsogon Tuesday.

PO2 Roque Anonuevo, 37, married and resident of Barangay San Julian, Irosin, was on board his motorcycle monitoring wanted persons in the area at about 10:20 a.m. when shot by the unknown persons.

Seven-year-old Merry S. Camo was hit by a stray bullet while playing at the road side.

After the shooting, the suspects hurriedly left the place.

Responding police officers failed to catch up with the killers.

Police are still determining the identities of the suspects and their motive for the killing.

Bicol police chief orders no whitewash on probe of misencounter in Legazpi village

From the Philippine News Agency (May 20): Bicol police chief orders no whitewash on probe of misencounter in Legazpi village

Chief Supt. Victor Deona, Philippine National Police (PNP) Bicol regional director, on Wednesday ordered a full investigation on the reported misencounter on Tuesday morning between PNP members and a squad of Philippine Army soldiers that killed a police officer and wounded another cop in Sitio (sub-village) San Jose, Barangay (village) Maslog here.

Deona said he had ordered a no-whitewash investigation of the incident, saying “I gave Sr. Supt. Marlo Meneses, Albay provincial director, 72 hours to investigate whether indeed there was a misencounter and recommend appropriate actions so that no similar incident would happen in the future.”

In a phone interview, Deona assured that the probe would be transparent, as the investigating team has already started gathering pieces of evidence in the encounter site and testimonies from policemen patrolling the area.

The investigation will also determine if there were operational lapses committed, specifically, if there were “coordination” protocols violated.

Quoting initial scene of the crime operatives (SOCO) report, Deona said operatives have recovered an M16 rifle, cell phones, wristwatch, empty bullet shells and slugs at the clash scene, which is about 200 meters away from the barangay road.

Meneses said in a text message that two teams from the Albay Public Safety Command (PPSC) were on security operations after receiving intelligence report that an NPA leader would visit a relative in the village, which was at that time celebrating its fiesta.

He said the teams were also responding to reports about the presence of armed group in the area.

Army Lt. Col. Perfecto Penaredondo, commanding officer of the 2nd Infantry Battalion, said in a text message that “as of now, we are investigating elements of our unit who figured in a clash at almost the same vicinity in Barangay Maslog yesterday.”

He said his squad of Army soldiers responded to an earlier tip about NPA presence in the area, after checking with the City Police Action Center in Barangay Taysan, a neighboring upland village in the southern part of the city.

Penaredondo further said investigation is also being conducted by his command to see if there are any possible lapses.

He said the firearms used by his men have been collected for ballistic examination to determine if these were the ones that hit the PNP men or the bullets were from the NPA rebels.

The alleged misencounter was reported by a press statement issued on Tuesday by the New People’s Army (NPA) Santos Binamira Command, saying that no members of their group were operating in that area when the incident occurred.

The Santos-Binamira command claimed that the incident was a misencounter as the police were engaged in a gunbattle with a group of Army soldiers who were also in the same area.

The engagement, which lasted for 45 minutes, led to the killing of PO3 Rene Balaguer and the wounding of PO2 Ronald Bondad, both members of the 16-man Albay PPSC team.

2 killed, 1 wounded as ASG strafes motorboat off Sulu waters

From the Philippine News Agency (May 20): 2 killed, 1 wounded as ASG strafes motorboat off Sulu waters

Suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits, with vengeance in mind, killed two civilians and wounded another after strafing a motorboat passing at the municipal waters of Tiomabal, Maibung, and Tapul, Sulu Tuesday afternoon.

Joint Task Group Sulu commander Col.Alan Arrojado said the incident took place at 3 p.m.

He added that the victims and all surviving passengers of the motorboat are residents of Laminusa Island, Siasi town, Sulu.

Arrojado said the names of the victims were still being determined as of this posting.

He added that suspected ASG men, aboard a fast motor boat, came from the direction of Lugus and fired on the civilian-packed craft.

Arrojado said that they saw no motive for the incident saved for the successful rescue of kidnap victim Guan Kim Maujon, a native of Laminusa Island, from the clutches of the bandit group last week.

In the said operation, seven ASG men were killed.

Trooper wounded in Iloilo clash with rebel remnants

From the Philippine News Agency (May 20): Trooper wounded in Iloilo clash with rebel remnants

A trooper from the 82nd Infantry Battalion was wounded during an encounter with 10 suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels at the boundary of Sitios Aray-aray and Gibas, Barangay Tigbanaba, Igbaras town, Iloilo Tuesday afternoon.

The firefight which lasted for 20 minutes started at 3:10 p.m.

Wounded was Pfc. Merdian M. Parajile.

3rd Infantry Division spokesman Major Ray Tiongson said the rebels sustained an undetermined number of wounded in the shootout as several blood trails were discovered in the encounter site.

He added that these bandits are remnants of the NPA's Southern Front, KR-Panay.

Pursuit operations are now ongoing.

Tiongson said the encounter stemmed from reports of residents of the above-mentioned barangay regarding the presence of heavily armed men extorting in their area.

Ferrer lauds Congress for retaining substantive elements of BBL

From the Philippine News Agency (May 20): Ferrer lauds Congress for retaining substantive elements of BBL

Government of the Philippines (GPH) chief peace negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer conveyed her appreciation to the members of the House of Representatives Ad Hoc committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) for exerting due diligence as they deliberated and voted on every section of the proposed measure, noting that substantive elements of the proposed law were retained in response to the call of the Bangsamoro people for genuine autonomy.

“We have been monitoring the proceedings in Congress since Monday and we definitely appreciate that our honorable representatives have exerted all efforts and and responded to the call of the people to draft a BBL consistent with the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro) and in accordance to the 1987 Philippine Constitution,” she said as the ad hoc committee on the BBL approved on Wednesday the proposed law at the committee level.

The line by line voting on the specific provisions on the proposed BBL started Monday afternoon. The lawmakers resumed their session early morning Tuesday and adjourned once more around 11 p.m. The Ad Hoc Committee continued its proceedings today for referral of the bill to the House committee on appropriations and the committee on ways and means before submission to plenary.

Substantive parts of BBL

According to Ferrer, the three most substantive elements of the BBL were carried in the amended draft of the ad hoc committee.

“The important elements are still there, notably: the structure of government; automatic block grant; and the layered voting process where the majority vote in the six Lanao del Norte municipalities and 39 North Cotabato barangays shall be determined at the level of the local government unit,” she said.

The chief peace negotiator added that most articles, especially on fiscal and economic matters were also preserved.

“We are thankful that substantive parts and the spirit of the BBL to address the Bangsamoro aspiration for political and fiscal autonomy were heeded by our lawmakers in their voting on the provisions of the Bangsamoro law,” she said.

During the two-day proceedings, the ad hoc committee has entrenched certain substantial changes to the bill such as the provision for the Chief Minister to have two deputies, one from the island provinces and another from central Mindanao; as well as the unequivocal recognition of the validity of the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) in the Bangsamoro. The latter has allayed the anxiety of the Lumad communities who have been clamoring for the same.

“The welfare of the indigenous peoples has been enhanced. The same is true with the protection of women’s rights and welfare. While there were cutbacks on the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro government over natural resources, the wealth-sharing from the exploration, development, and utilization of these resources were not changed,” continued Ferrer.

One step closer to BBL passage

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles also hailed the passage of the BBL at the committee level, saying that “this is a good day in our quest for just and lasting peace as the draft BBL is one step closer to passage, having been approved on the committee level.”

"Kami po ay nagpapasalamat sa liderato ng Kamara de Representante at sa pamunuan at mga miyembro ng Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL sa kanilang pagsagot sa panawagan ng Bangsamoro para sa kapayapaan at kaunlaran (We would like to express our thanks to the leadership of the House of Representatives and to the chair and members of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL for answering the call of the Bangsamoro for peace and prosperity)," she said.

"We are aware that there will still be challenges along the way but we are confident that our lawmakers will heed the call of the people for meaningful autonomy and end to conflict," Deles added.

AFP defends decision not to allow civilians to pass through Crow Valley during 'Balikatan' exercises

From the Philippine News Agency (May 20): AFP defends decision not to allow civilians to pass through Crow Valley during 'Balikatan' exercises

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday defended its decision not to allow civilians to pass through Crow Valley, Tarlac during live-fire exercises held there during the recently concluded "Balikatan" 2015 exercises.

"For more than a decade now, we have given civilians the privilege to pass through the Crow Valley military reservation to access their livelihood sources. However, we normally suspend this privilege every time our soldiers are conducting live-fire exercises," said AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc.

He made this statement in wake of reports that Sen. Miriam Santiago is planning to conduct a Senate inquiry on economic losses suffered by civilians who were prevented from passing Crow Valley during the height of the "Balikatan" war games which started on April 20 and ended on the 30th.

"During the recent 'Balikatan' exercises, the organizers implemented movement restrictions within the military reservation to ensure that nobody among the civilians will be harmed by the live munitions that are used by the training participants," Cabunoc said.

He was referring to the joint Filipino and American military forces conduct a capability demonstration in Crow Valley, Tarlac as part of the combined arms live-fire exercise between the American and Filipino militaries held on April 30, the last day of the maneuvers.

"The Balikatan exercises are part of our obligations as a signatory of the Mutual Defense Treaty," he added.

The exercise demonstrates cooperation and inter-operability between the Philippines and the United States, consistent with Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

"It is also part of our preparation and training enhancement to improve our readiness for territorial defense and in addressing other national security concerns," the AFP public affairs office chief stressed.

"We will fully cooperate with the investigating body that will be tasked to look into this issue," Cabunoc added.

House approves PH sea lanes

From the Manila Bulletin (May 20): House approves PH sea lanes

The House of Representatives approved on third and final reading last night the proposed Philippine Archipelagic Sea Lanes Act, a measure that could impact on the ongoing territorial controversy over the West Philippine Sea between Philippines and China.

Pending in at least four congresses, House Bill 5487 seeks to empower the president to designate the archipelagic sea lanes in the archipelagic waters of the Philippines. This provision differed from previous measures filed on the issue.

With 146 congressmen favoring the bill, the Lower House finally disposed of two measures related to territorial waters of the country.

Earlier, the House approved House Bill 4889 defining the maritime zones of the country.

Endorsed by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, HB 5487 will establish the parameters for the establishment of archipelagic sea lanes (ASLs) in the Philippine archipelago.

Committee chairman and Albay Rep. Alfrancis Bichara said the bill prescribes the rights and obligations of foreign ships and aircraft when exercising the right of passage over Philippine waters in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“It emphasizes that the exercise of the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage (ASLP) by all foreign ships shall be consistent with the constitutional mandate of freedom from nuclear weapons in Philippine territory,” Bichara said.

Magdalo party-list Rep. Ashley Acedillo said doubts on the bill’s full implementation have been expressed by various quarters.

USS George Washington leaves Japan for patrol missions

From Ang Malaya (May 20): USS George Washington leaves Japan for patrol missions

Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS George Washington leaves Yokosuka, Japan for its final patrol mission in Western Pacific before it undergoes nuclear refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH).

“George Washington underwent a six-month SRA period and completed dock trials, fast cruise, and four days of sea trials,” the United States Navy reports.

Aside from patrolling, George Washington strike group commander Rear Admiral John Alexander said the aircraft carrier will participate in drills before it ultimately heads to Newport News, Virginia for RCOH later this year.

The giant aircraft carrier left Japan last Monday after seven years of being deployed. It was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier stationed overseas by US Navy. USS George Washington will be replaced by a newer Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Some crew members of George Washington will transfer to USS Ronald Reagan which will continue to patrol the the region.

“USS George Washington will now begin a journey, which will end in Virginia, but some of the crew of USS George Washington will transfer to Ronald Reagan during our voyage,” George Washington’s commanding officer Captain Timothy Kuehhas said.

MILF says 90% satisfied with Bangsamoro draft law at House

From the Business World (May 19): MILF says 90% satisfied with Bangsamoro draft law at House

THE MORO ISLAMIC Liberation Front (MILF) is 90% satisfied with how the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is turning out at the House of Representatives so far, its top official said, although noting that a “major surgery” has been made on some key provisions.

A youth holds a placard supporting the peace accord between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front during a rally at the House of Representatives on May 11. -- AFP

Asked to comment on the developments at the House ad hoc committee on the BBL this week, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Q. Iqbal said that it is generally a “correct movement forward,” particularly with the retention of local powers and bodies on auditing, elections, civil service and human rights.

“What is happening now in the ad hoc committee is a good development,” Mr. Iqbal said in a phone interview yesterday. “But there are others that need serious consideration.”

The 75-member panel pushed through with a per-page amendment and voting on a second working draft of the BBL, which was crafted following two meetings over the weekend with President Benigno S. C. Aquino III.

Lawmakers, led by committee chairman and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez (2nd district), ironed out changes to the BBL to make the proposed amendments “acceptable” and make it more compliant with the agreements forged between the government and the MILF.

Mr. Rodriguez has said that the Palace meetings were mere “dialogues” to iron out provisions of the Bangsamoro law, denying that a Malacañang draft was provided for the lawmakers’ perusal.

Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr. said via text message that Mr. Aquino merely “asked for help to ensure the BBL’s passage.”

The second working draft was adopted last Monday as the basis of the committee’s voting this week.

As of 7 p.m., the panel has gone through more than 60 of 109 pages, accepting several -- though mostly technical -- amendments fielded by lawmakers.

The draft retained provisions for local units for auditing, civil service, human rights and elections but as “regional offices” of the central government’s constitutional bodies, contrary to Mr. Rodriguez’s earlier proposal to remove them from the bill.

However, powers of the Ombudsman to discipline erring local officials has been restored as a reserve power of the national government, alongside banking and military protocol.

The operational control of the chief minister over local police has also been restored.

“Initially, I can say that numerically speaking, 90% of the proceedings are okay. But qualitatively, there are big items and issues that were removed,” Mr. Iqbal said.

The MILF official was referring to the removal of the wali or titular head of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, which was deleted from the draft law as Mr. Rodriguez said it had the makings of a substate.

Mr. Iqbal said this was a “major surgery” on the BBL, as the wali is an “essential part of a parliamentary government” that would head the region should the government fail to do so. He also scored the transfer of the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights from being an exclusive to a concurrent power.


Mr. Iqbal likewise pressed for Congress to meet its self-imposed June 11 target, saying it has been too long since the BBL was turned over to the Legislative eight months ago.

“The BBL is an administration bill, the government should really focus on it,” Mr. Iqbal said.

Both Messrs. Rodriguez and Belmonte said they remain “confident” that the measure will secure final approval from both the House and Senate by June.

But Majority Leader Neptali M. Gonzales II told reporters that he cannot be sure if the BBL will secure enough votes to hurdle plenary voting, adding that the June approval from Congress may as well be “wishful thinking.”

The Bangsamoro law is touted by the administration as a measure that will bring peace to Mindanao, as it gives political and fiscal autonomy in the region.

U.S. Navy Ship Met Chinese Vessel on South China Sea Patrol

From the Business World (May 20): U.S. Navy Ship Met Chinese Vessel on South China Sea Patrol

A U.S. combat ship used agreed codes for unplanned encounters when it met a Chinese vessel during a recent patrol of the contested South China Sea, according to the vice chief of naval operations.

USS Forth Worth

The USS Fort Worth met a Chinese military vessel near the disputed Spratly islands, Admiral Michelle Howard told reporters on Tuesday in Singapore. Its patrol this month was the first time a U.S. Littoral Combat Ship operated in waters around the islands, which are claimed by countries including China, the Philippines and Vietnam.

"We had previously agreed with the Chinese, if we met at sea, to use code for unexpected encounters at sea," said Howard. "Fort Worth came across one of our counterparts and they did do that, so things went as professionally as they have since that agreement was made."

Those mechanisms -- designed to avoid a confrontation between ships or planes that escalates into a broader clash -- may be tested as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter advocates expanding patrols in the sea, including into a 12 nautical mile (22 kilometer) radius of reefs that China is building on.

Such actions, known as freedom of navigation challenges, could elicit protests from China and pressure it to explain the rationale for its territorial assertions.

Howard declined to say if the USS Fort Worth sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratlys, or give further details of the encounter. Stars and Stripes reported the ship was followed closely by a Chinese frigate.

Navigation Challenges

China claims more than 80 percent of the South China Sea and keeping tensions down in the area is key given about half the world's merchant ships pass through the waters every year.

Freedom of navigation operations are not unusual for the U.S. Navy, which in the year to September 2014 challenged 19 nations, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam for the way they manage their territorial waters.

Maritime issues should not be approached with a "zero-sum mindset," Rear Admiral Shen Jinlong, commander of the People's Liberation Army Navy's South Sea Fleet, said at a defense symposium on Wednesday in Singapore. "A new security concept should be unfolded -- keep yourself safe while making others safe and jointly build a harmonious and stable environment."

"China consistently pursues a national defense policy which is defensive in nature, actively developing friendly military relations with the rest of the world," Shen said. "We should adhere to solve maritime disputes in a peaceful way, reduce suspicions, understand each other, control risks, avoid conflict and strive for win-win situations."

'Indisputable Sovereignty'

China's reclamation work in the South China Sea spans about the size of the U.S. Navy's Great Lakes recruiting command, which handles 30,000 to 35,000 people a year, said Howard, who was the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy and the first female to hold a four-star Admiral rank.

"I think it's now time for China to talk about what the reclamation of land means," she said. "There's a purpose to it and I think in terms of helping everybody who lives in this part of the world to understand the why would be helpful for China to help explain the why."

Common Rules

Military buildups can cause distrust and increase the chance of unintended clashes, Vice Admiral Yasuhiro Shigeoka, Vice Chief of Staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, said in Singapore on Wednesday. Navies in the region must manage these risks and need common rules, he said.

"These common rules and codes prevent unnecessary tensions," Shigeoka said, without referencing China directly. "Lack of mutual understanding among regional navies as to their capability and the intention of particular navies could invite miscalculation and unexpected emergencies at sea."

Japan and China are embroiled in a separate territorial dispute over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Militaries should have "face to face staff talks despite tension and friction at state level," Shigeoka said.

Australia remains worried by developments in the South China Sea, navy chief Vice Admiral Tim Barrett said at the Singapore symposium. "We are concerned that land reclamation activity by any claimant raises tensions in the region and Australia opposes the use of intimidation, aggression or coercion by any claimant state," he said.

Still, the adoption and increased use of agreed cues for managing unplanned encounters at sea "creates a level of certainty in the management of encounters at sea that previously did not exist." -- Bloomberg

Soldier dies in Bacolod blast

From ABS-CBN (May 20): Soldier dies in Bacolod blast

A soldier died while another one was wounded in an accidental explosion in Barangay Estefania in this city on Tuesday afternoon.

Technical Sergeant Joven Maravilla died after a suspected grenade exploded while they were at a shop located at the back of the advanced command post of the army's 303rd Infantry Brigade.

Maravilla's companion and fellow bomb expert, Corporal Erlwin Trases, is in critical condition.

Police and military investigators are still determining how the explosion occurred.

''We cannot say kung ano yung ginagawa nila. But they were there in the shop and silang dalawa lang yung nandun. We cannot even determine kung ano yung sumabog,'' said 303rd IB commander Brigadier General Jon Aying.

OPAPP, MILF to join Maguindanao peace summit

From the Philippine Star (May 20): OPAPP, MILF to join Maguindanao peace summit

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process will send delegates to the May 25 grand Maguindanao peace summit in Buluan town where participants are to discuss the political significance of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The pro-BBL dialogue, organized by the office of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, the police, and the local chapter of the Mayors League of the Philippines, is the provincial government’s 33rd since the bill was submitted to Congress last year.

The MILF’s Muhaquer Iqbal, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, told The Star Wednesday they will send representatives to the event, among them officials of their Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities.

Iqbal said the event is a good venue for sectoral leaders from across Maguindanao, which covers 36 towns, to speak about their perceptions on the draft BBL, premised on two government-MILF accords, the October 15,2013 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.

Mangudadatu, Maguindanao Vice Gov. Lester Sinsuat, and all of Maguindanao’s 36 incumbent mayors have overtly been campaigning for the approval of the draft BBL since its inception, even before President Benigno Aquino III had certified it as an urgent bill.

Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said military officials involved in various peace-building activities in Maguindanao are to attend the May 25 peace summit.

Mangudadatu said Pangilinan and the regional director of the ARMM police, Chief Supt. Ronald Estilles, will provide security for the venue of the summit.

Pangilinan said their summit security missions are coordinated with the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee.

 Mangudadatu on Tuesday said the event is meant to gather sectoral leaders from across the province to confer on the benefits of enacting the draft BBL into a national edict.

“This will be a convergence, a peace assembly of Maguindanao’s Moro, Christian and lumad people,” said Mangudadatu, chairperson of the inter-agency provincial peace and order council.

The provincial administrator of Maguindanao, Engineer Wahab Tunga, and a senior member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, Bobby Katambak, had separately confirmed that the peace summit will involve representatives from the MILF and the municipal peace and order councils in all of Maguindanao's 36 towns.

Katambak said the most pressing concern for the provincial government now is how to intensify its peace programs under an MILF-led Bangsamoro political entity.

Marlon Dedumo, a senior staff of OPAPP’s media office in Cotabato City, said they will also attend the event, along with representatives from the government’s ceasefire committee, which is led by Army Brig. Gen. Carlito Gavez, Jr.

House panel approves Bangsamoro Basic Law

From GMA News (May 20): House panel approves Bangsamoro Basic Law

The House ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on Wednesday voted to approve the measure formalizing the creation of a new political entity that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Voting 50-17 with one abstention, the panel approved the committee report on the proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region after two days of marathon hearings where committee members voted on each of the provisions contained in the bill.

The result of the voting was announced by panel chairman, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez on Wednesday afternoon.

Following the ad hoc panel’s approval of the bill, the measure will be deliberated on by the joint committee on appropriations and ways and means, which will iron out details on funding its implementation.

It is expected to be introduced to the plenary either Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

The Bangsamoro bill, a top priority measure of the Aquino administration, seeks to recognize the Bangsamoro’s aspiration for self-determination by giving them greater power in governing themselves.

Under the proposed legislation, the autonomous Bangsamoro government will be parliamentary in form, to be headed by a Chief Minister.

The original draft BBL was a product of the comprehensive peace agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014 after 17 years of on-and-off negotiations.

Committee members, however, agreed to use as basis for their voting this week the so-called “Chairman and Vice Chairpersons’ Working Draft” of the BBL, which was finalized following a meeting between House leaders and President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang over the weekend.