Monday, June 29, 2015

USS Fort Worth Completes Its First CARAT Exercise with Philippines

From the US Naval Institute (Jun 29): USS Fort Worth Completes Its First CARAT Exercise with Philippines

Sailors refuel an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter attached to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) during a maneuvering exercise with Philippine navy ships BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF 15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF 16) in the South China Sea on June 24, 2015. US Navy photo.

Sailors refuel an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter attached to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) during a maneuvering exercise with Philippine navy ships BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF 15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF 16) in the South China Sea on June 24, 2015. US Navy photo.
The Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) completed its first-ever Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines, ahead of bilateral CARAT engagements with other Asian partners later this year.

Fort Worth and two Philippine ships, BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16), spent two days exercising in the Sulu Sea, according to a Navy statement. The CARAT event focused on combined operations at sea and maritime domain awareness, and included training events on tactical combat casualty care (TCCC), visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS), gunnery exercises, maneuvering in formation, air defense and search and rescue.

The Philippine Navy also used the time together to conduct deck landing qualifications on the LCS’s flight deck.

Fort Worth will refuel in Subic Bay, Philippines, before returning to the South China Sea for routine patrols. In mid-July the LCS will participate in another CARAT exercise with Singapore.

CARAT began in 1995 and comprises a series of annual bilateral exercises with various South and Southeast Asian nations. Later this year, U.S. forces will conduct CARAT exercises with Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

Fort Worth departed San Diego for a 16-month deployment in November and has so far performed better than expected in terms of operational availability and maintenance requirements. The ship skipped a maintenance availability to help search for the missing Air Asia Flight 8501 in January.
And it has kept busy with its South China Sea patrols and exercises with Vietnam, South Korea and more.

Volleyball for peace: Stars serve up clinics

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 30): Volleyball for peace: Stars serve up clinics

ARMED with the popularity it has enjoyed in recent years, volleyball can serve as a tool for peace and development in the countrysides.

Top officials of the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. has embarked on a social responsibility program that calls for the country’s volleyball standouts to hold clinics, particularly in strife-prone areas in Mindanao.

Volleyball federation president Joey Romasanta said the project is the association’s contribution for peace and national development.

“History says that sports is a unifying factor: no politics, no religion,” said Romasanta, also the first vice president of the Philippine Olympic Committee.

“If only the other sports will follow suit and do the same, it will help the country in a big way.”

Romasanta said the program has the blessings of the International Olympic Committee and the United Nations, as well as the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB).

Federation managing director Chippy Espiritu said the clinics will be held in Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan, among others.

“We’d like to use sports as an instrument for peace,” said Espiritu. “We will bring players and coaches to these areas. In return, we will bring the kids to watch the games in Manila.”

The clinics will be scheduled in coordination with the Philippine Marines, whose top officers met recently with LVPI officials.

Opinion: PNoy covering up MILF’s terror links for BBL passage

Opinion piece by Atty. Dodo Dulay in the Manila Times (Jun 29): PNoy covering up MILF’s terror links for BBL passage

OBSESSED with passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as his administration’s so-called “legacy”, PNoy is whitewashing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) links to known terrorists and terror groups, some of whom have pledged allegiance to the notorious jihadist group ISIS.

According to the ISIS Study Group, a website maintained by retired military personnel from the US Special Forces and the US armed forces’ intelligence community, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia has directed senior National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) officials to “tone down” their assessments on linkages between the MILF and Zulkifli bin Hir aka “Marwan,” the Indonesian terrorist killed by SAF commandos during the Mamasapano raid.

“Our sources within NICA have informed us that Garcia has specifically instructed the organization to avoid airing out the truth that Marwan was receiving direct support from the MILF 105th Base Command (BC) out of fear that it would further erode support for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Furthermore, our sources have reported that Garcia has been personally editing NICA assessments that were to be delivered to PNoy and members of the Philippine Congress,” the group said.

If Garcia has indeed taken to sanitizing the intelligence agency’s reports, it is treason of the highest order. He is compromising national security for the sake of deodorizing the MILF’s image, obviously with the knowledge of and/or at the behest of PNoy.

While the MILF-Central Committee (MILF-CC) might want to forge a peace deal with the Philippine government, the group says they have absolutely no control over the three MILF units that are providing direct support to the terror groups operating in the country: the 102nd, 105th and 118th Base Commands (BC).

This supposedly became more apparent with the recent death of Abdul Basit Usman, the accomplice of Marwan who managed to escape during the Mamasapano raid.

When the killing of Usman was first reported, military sources said he was killed by a military asset who was purportedly recruited from within the group of the alleged terrorist. The asset allegedly managed to recruit two fellow aides to turn against Usman, who was then targeted in an operation. The military later said the asset died with Usman when the MILF tried to collar the terror suspect.

Another version put forward by Armed Forces Chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang was that Usman was killed by his bodyguards who allegedly wanted to claim the $1-million bounty on his head. A week later, the military backtracked on its claim on how Usman was killed.

Echoing the account by MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, the military now says the MILF’s 118th Base Command planned to capture Usman and present him to the group’s Central Committee but he resisted, sparking a firefight that led to his death.

Jaafar claims Usman’s death showed that the MILF was doing its part in maintaining peace and order in areas they controlled as agreed upon in agreements it signed with the government. “Usman’s death is proof that the MILF is sincere in its efforts to strictly abide with the provisions of the ceasefire mechanism,” Jaafar added.

Even though they had nothing to do with it, the MILF’s Central Committee is now exploiting Usman’s death to soften public opposition to the BBL.

“The reason they claimed credit for Usman’s death was to save face after the 25 January 2015 Mamasapano raid that killed Marwan, demonstrate to the [Government of the Philippines] that they’re a viable partner of peace and to further the narrative that they actually control their three ‘problem children’ when in truth they don’t,” the ISIS study group said.

“If it was publicly known that the MILF-CC can’t control the elements within their organization known for providing support to terror groups, then the Philippine Congress and general public would know that the peace deal isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. After all, just how much of a success will the BBL be if the people in charge of the new Bangsamoro government can’t even police themselves?” it added.

While the MILF’s Central Committee supposedly issued an order to its commanders to “expel” terror groups from their territory, the group says this was largely ignored by MILF’s military units. This explains why many terrorists and terrorist organizations are finding a safe haven in MILF enclaves.

In the Sarangani region, the Ansar Khalifa Sarangani (AKS) – a terror group reportedly receiving direct support from Indonesian jihadists – is said to be re-establishing Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)’s training camps. Meanwhile, Singaporean JI operative Lito Ribiyah aka “Muawiyah” is purportedly hiding in the Salvo, Patatin, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak area controlled by MILF fighters.

Muamar Askali, the leader of the radical wing of the Abu Sayyaf Group which pledged allegiance to ISIS, continues to roam freely in the Jolo-Sulu area.

Legalizing the MILF’s control over the “Bangsamoro territory” through the BBL will only make the region a staging ground for terrorism.

Duterte condoles with kin of slain NPA commander

From Rappler (Jun 29): Duterte condoles with kin of slain NPA commander

The Davao City mayor warned of possible retaliation from the New People's Army   

‘MOST WANTED’ NPA LEADER. 1st Pulang Bagani Battalion commander Leoncio 'Ka Parago’ Pitao (R) is seen sharing a light moment with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (L). File photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler

‘MOST WANTED’ NPA LEADER. 1st Pulang Bagani Battalion commander Leoncio 'Ka Parago’ Pitao (R) is seen sharing a light moment with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (L). File photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte condoled with the family of fallen top New People's Army (NPA) commander Leoncio Pitao, better known as "Kumander Parago."

"I will help his family in whatever way I can because I know he is a family man," Duterte told reporters on Monday, June 29, before convening the City Peace and Order Council.

"My relationship with Parago is a different one. We are friends. I don't know with the new leader, lets just be ready and we are ready and maybe Kumander Ryan, his son will be the next in line," Duterte added.

The news of Pitao's death reached his wife, Evangeline, through Duterte's executive assistant.

Pitao along with a female companion identified by police sources Kyle Limpas, who is believed to be his medical aide, were killed in Purok 9, Barangay Pañalum, Paquibato District Sunday afternoon (READ: NPA commander killed in Davao)

Duterte ordered the transfer of Pitao's remains from the Rivera Funeral Home to the Cosmopolitan funeral parlor.

A more brutal successor?

The Philippine military said the death of Mindanao's oldest and most wanted NPA commander, who had a P5.6-million bounty on his head, will translate to a weaker communist movement in the region.

Duterte disagreed, however. "I asked the military, the police, the government and everyone to be ready. After his death a new leader is expected to shine."

Duterte also warned of a possible retaliation from the NPA rebels.

Pitao's son, whom he said could take his father's place in the movement, is in his early 30s. He is known to be more brutal that than his father.

"Mas isog na siya kaysa iyang papa, ug mas brutal, sya man ang nanimalos pagkamatay sa iya manghud nga si Rebelyn (Ryan is more aggressive than his father, more brutal, he revenged over the death of his younger sister Rebelyn)," said a source.

Still, Duterte assured Davao City residents that peace and order will not be affected by possible retaliation attack from the NPA.

39 NE youngsters finish call center course in 703rd Brigade-initiated project

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 29): 39 NE youngsters finish call center course in 703rd Brigade-initiated project

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga -- A total of 39 youngsters in Bongabon town in Nueva Ecija recently graduated from a 12-day Call Center NCII course which was initiated by the Army 703rd Brigade.

“The activity is part of a much bigger picture in the implementation of the Internal Peace Security Plan Bayanihan where every agency and non-governmental organization take an active part in every community development activity,” 703rd Brigade Commander Col. Felimon Santos Jr. said.

Partners in the undertaking were the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, host local government unit, the Office of 1st district representative Estrellita Suansing, Central Luzon School of Digital Arts, and Nueva Ecija Stakeholders Collaborative Group for Peace and Development.

Classes were held at the 703rd Brigade Headquarters.

“The participants, who are products of our recent Youth Leadership Summit in Carranglan town, were given classroom instructions and practical application skills to be successful call center agents,” Santos furthered.

Orientation and team building activities were also included in the training module to further strengthen the students’ resolve to be highly competitive in the industry.

PIA conducts Journalism Workshop for NOLCOM personnel

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 30): PIA conducts Journalism Workshop for NOLCOM personnel

Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) has enlisted, for the second year in a row, the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) in the conduct of a five-day Journalism Workshop for its uniformed and civilian personnel.

Dubbed as “Pointers: Basics for the Well-Honed Techniques in Communication,” the June 22-26 activity had discussions and practical exercises on news and feature writing, copyreading, photography, photo editing, and management of social media properties.

Assistant Chief of Staff for Joint and Combined Training Maj. Erich Nazario said the training was essential in their mission of delivering vital information to the public by utilizing traditional and new media.

“Developing good communication skills and learning the technicalities of writing and photo editing are important factors in our mission of bringing peace to communities,” Nazario furthered.

For her part, Command Information Office (CIO) Head Maj. Gina Daet stressed that the discussion on communicating through social media was significant to NOLCOM as it can be utilized in announcing their projects and activities and more importantly during calamities.

“It is important that PIA introduces to NOLCOM the new trends of communication. With social media, it will become easier for us to reach the populace, especially in times of calamities, when public service announcements are highly prioritized,” she said.

Attendees came for the U8 Division, CIO, Camp Aquino Station Hospital, Army 7th Infantry Division, and Air Force Tactical Operations Group 3.

Speakers included Tarlac Provincial Manager Lorie Gene Cruz, PIA Regional News Desk Editor Carlo Lorenzo Datu, Tarlac-based television reporter Jaypee Ibay Bugayon, and freelance graphic artist Stephen Dingli.

PNoy to grace 68th anniversary of Air Force in Clark

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 30): PNoy to grace 68th anniversary of Air Force in Clark

President Benigno Aquino III will grace Wednesday the 68th anniversary rites of Philippine Air Force (PAF) at the Haribon Hangar of Clark Air Base (CAB) in Pampanga.

Serving as the highlights of the event include a high-speed opener pass of S-211 jets, a figure of “68” formation pass of 11 T-41D and 11 SF-260FH/M, and exhibition of para-jumpers from the 505th Search and Rescue Group.

There will likewise be a conferment of awards to outstanding individuals and units, flyby of aircrafts of various types, and capability parade of ground equipment used for combat and disaster response.

The Commander-In-Chief is also expected to deliver a message.

PAF was founded on July 1, 1947- two years after the end of World War II.

It traces its lineage to the Philippine Army Air Corp, which was established in 1941.

This year’s celebration carries the theme “Matatag na Bagwis. Dangal ng Bayan. Lakas ng Sambayanan.”

NOLCOM personnel to undergo training on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response, ICS

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 30): NOLCOM personnel to undergo training on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response, ICS

Personnel of units based at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) is set to undergo a five-day training on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) and Incident Command System (ICS).

“The July 6-10 activity, which is to be done in partnership with Office of Civil Defense, is a follow up of our first training on HADR and ICS last July 2014 and seeks to impart additional knowledge and skills on proper disaster response measures,” NOLCOM Assistant Chief of Staff for Joint and Combined Training Maj. Erich Nazario said.

ICS is a standardized on-scene incident management concept allowing responders to adopt an integrated organizational structure equal to the complexity and demands of any single incident or multiple incidents, without being hindered by jurisdictional boundaries.

“It would develop rooms of collaboration among military officials and government rescue teams by allowing them to exchange their organization’s best practices,” Nazario ended.

Feature: Peace Caravan: A new beginning in Misamis Oriental

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 29): Feature: Peace Caravan: A new beginning in Misamis Oriental

CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan de Oro City -- Peace is no longer a dream rather a reality.
Datu Bruno Lindahay, Tribal Chieftain of Barangay Kibanban said this during a peace caravan held at Balingasag town, Misamis Oriental on June 27 with a theme “Ang Panaghiusa maoy taytayan sa Kalinaw ug Kalambuan (Unity is our bridge towards Peace and Development).”

The caravan is jointly conducted by the local government unit, national government agencies, Philippine National Police (PNP), and 4th Infantry Division (4ID) of Philippine Army (PA).

The event left a simple yet very memorable event…a smile, laughter and a feeling of gratitude on every people in Kibanban.

Datu Lindahay said, “Daku gayud ang among pagpasalamat sa amoang lokal nga panggamhanan, mga ahensiya sa gobyerno ilabi na usab sa tanang sundalo nga nitambong niining makasaysayanong panagtigum para ihatud kanamu ang mga programa para sa kalinaw og kalambuan og labaw sa tanan ang kalipay nga dili na namu malimtan.”

(We would like to thank our local officials and agencies and to all soldiers who conducted this very memorable event to bring programs for peace and development and most especially the happiness that will never be forgotten.)

For his part, Col Jessie A Alvarez, Brigade Commander of 403rd Infantry Brigade (403Bde) said this activity will never be realized if not with the convergence of everyone.

He hopes that through this peace caravan, they were able to reunite everyone in Kibanban towards their goals and aspirations of having a peaceful community that is ready for further development.

The program started with the conduct of a solemn ritual by the Higaonons of Brgy Kibanban together with the soldiers and former rebels, who are also Higaonons from other areas in Northern Mindanao.

They prayed and asked for enlightenment of their members who joined the armed struggle to go back to where they belong.

After the ritual was the symbolic planting of tree of hope by the youth leaders in Northern Mindanao and the Indigenous People (IP) youth of the barangay.

This activity symbolizes hope and a new beginning for the people in their community.

After the two highlights of the peace caravan was the services for the people.

Services include feeding program; medical and dental services; cacao seedling, slippers and food distribution; circumcision and free haircut; and distribution of school supplies.

While these services are being given, series of fun games have been conducted that brought happiness and laughter to everyone during the Peace Caravan.

MGen Oscar T Lactao, Commander of 4th Infantry Division said now is the time to forget the pain in the past.

Let us all move forward and focus to the Bayanihan activities that will reunite every people in every community. This Caravan is our way to encourage the NPAs especially those who belong to this tribe to lay down their arms and renew their life. They too deserve a second chance, said Lactao.

“Once again, I urge everyone to take part on our peace advocacies. Let us work together to achieve our common goal so that we can all live in peace and harmony,” MGen Lactao added.

P1.2-B helicopter deal

From the Manila Times (Jun 29): P1.2-B helicopter deal

Blue Ribbon panel summons state auditors

THE Senate committee on accountability of public officers and investigations, better known as the blue ribbon committee, will summon officials of the Commission on Audit (COA) to shed light on why they issued notices of suspension on three big ticket Defense Department contracts, including the P1.2-billion Huey helicopter deal.

Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, said inputs coming from the COA would be crucial in determining possible violations committed in the procurement of 21 units of refurbished UH-1 helicopters made under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.

Guingona said he decided to invite the COA officials in the next hearing after The Manila Times reported last week that state auditors have issued audit observation memorandum (AOM) on three different aircraft procurement contracts,

According to the Manila Times report the state auditing body red-flagged the procurement projects due to certain “deficiencies”.

The AOM and the notice to suspend also covers the P18.9 billion acquisition of 12 fighter jets from South Korea in 2013 and the P4.8 billion procurement of eight Bell 412EP combat utility helicopters in 2014 which have a total combined amount of P25 billion.

Guingona said the blue ribbon committee would resume its hearing on the controversial chopper deal on July 7 wherein whistleblower Rhodora Alvarez will again take the stand to reveal more details on the P1.25-billion chopper deal.

Rebel collared after skirmish with military

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 29): Rebel collared after skirmish with military

Butuan City -- A suspected communist-New People’s Army (NPA) rebel was captured while a policeman was wounded after an encounter between police force and communist insurgents at the hinterland boundary of Tungao and San Mateo here, a regional police spokesman said yesterday.

Supt. Martin M. Gamba, spokesman of Police Regional Office 13 (PRO 13), said the rebel, whose identity was temporarily withheld pending tactical interrogation, was captured while in possession of a hand grenade and two cellular phones.

The PRO 13 spokesman said the captured rebel was allegedly a regular member of guerilla-Front Committee 4-A of the CPP-NPA Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC) and is now temporarily detained at 13th RPIDCU while the filing of appropriate charges was being prepared by RPSB.

Gamba, also identified the wounded policeman as Police Officer 1 Harold P. Lauro of  RPSB.
Lauro was shot in the mouth with the bullet grazing his tongue and exiting through his right cheek. He was also shot in the right shoulder.

The wounded policeman is already recuperating at the Butuan Doctors Hospital here, the PRO 13 Regional Health Service based at Camp Rafael C. Rodriguez here said.

Analysts: Taiwan Goals Drive China's Spratly Grab

From Defense News (Jun 28): Analysts: Taiwan Goals Drive China's Spratly Grab

Missing from discussions at last week's US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) was Taiwan's significance in China's land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea, said defense analysts.

Held annually since 2009, the S&ED is a high-level government meeting set alternatively in each other's capital.

The Taiwan invasion scenario drives all Chinese military planning, force modernization, exercises and training, and this includes the recent land reclamation projects in the South China Sea, said Ian Easton, a China defense specialist at the Project 2049 Institute in Washington.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) views the militarization of these islands as creating an outer defensive perimeter to extend its precision strike battle networks, Easton said. In the event of a Taiwan crisis, there is a "high probability that the US would steam at least two aircraft carrier groups to the Philippine Sea to bolster Taiwan's defense."

Since 9/11, the US has had at least one carrier group available for the mission in either the Arabian Gulf or the Indian Ocean, thus forcing the group to pass through the South China Sea to reach the area.

There are now high expectations China will establish an air defense identification zone (ADIZ), as it did in the East China Sea in November 2013, as part of an anti-access/area denial strategy in the South China Sea, said Andrew Erickson, a China defense specialist at the US Naval War College.

Erickson points to possible engineering efforts to lengthen the 1,300 meter runway on Fiery Cross in the Spratly Islands to 3,110 meters, allowing for the safe forward deployment of its J-11 (Su-27) fighter aircraft.

However, Chinese sources still insist the reclamation effort is largely for civilian and non-military purposes, including humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, fishery safety, ocean preservation and scientific research, said Wang Dong, deputy executive director, Institute on China-U.S. People to People Exchange, Peking University.

"I think China is being honest by acknowledging that there will be defensive military values of the facilities but they are mainly for civilian purpose," he said. China's sovereignty claims are based on history and reality, and China does not have to use land reclamation to reinforce its claims, he said.

Fiery Cross is one of seven features in the Spratly Islands involved in China's land reclamation efforts, recently dubbed the "Great Wall of Sand" and "Sand Castles" by US Pacific Commander Adm. Harry Harris. Others include Subi Reef, Paracels and Mischief Reef as possible future sites for Chinese fighter bases, Erickson said, and Chinese planners might well envision a division of labor among the artificial islands.

"Given its airfield, control tower and radars, Fiery Cross Reef may serve as a hub of sorts."

These facilities will no doubt provide China with radar coverage, signal intelligence and aerial coverage of the South China Sea, said retired US Marine Corp Lt. Gen. Wallace "Chip" Gregson, former assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs under President Barack Obama.

Easton agrees. The Chinese will establish a "robust network of intelligence gathering posts on these massive man-made islands." These facilities will enable precision strikes from aircraft operating on the islands, from submarines resupplying there and from on-island cruise missile sites.

Easton and Gregson concur the artificial islands would not survive long in a war with the US, and this is why Zhu Feng, executive director of the China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea, Nanjing University, believes US claims the reclamation program is a military effort should be dismissed.

"If the islands are militarized they are sitting ducks to the US military, so island reclamation means nothing, changes nothing."

Zhu believes the US is paranoid and "overplaying" reclamation. He said the US should not see it as a "creeping provocation or challenge to their authority."

China is not trying to force the US military out of the region nor does China see the US as in decline and vulnerable. China is a rising power, but still very premature, and this has made the US anxious. "It is all a cliché that the US is in decline and China is the rising replacement for the US in the region. These are conspiracy theories."

Zhu warns that if the US sends warships to Chinese territorial waters, this will only raise tensions unnecessarily. "Beijing should not overreact either, but the placement of US warships in these waters demands a response. It is an unaffordable ruse on the US part."

PLA Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu, director general of the Strategic Studies Department, National Defense University, complained that most Americans do not know the simple basics of the South China Sea controversy, such as the origins of the dispute, where the South China Sea is located and who the players are.

"Why didn't the US say anything when other countries expanded their islands?"

Zhu was referring in part to current expansion projects on Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island (Itu Abu), which include lengthening the runway to accommodate larger aircraft (currently only C-130s can resupply the island), and the construction of a dock capable of handling 3,000-ton vessels, ostensibly for Taiwan's new coast guard cutters.

The facilities on Taiping and its strategic location could tempt China, Easton said.

"Bear in mind that the Chinese islands being created surround Taiping on three sides," he said.

Taiwan is basically paying for a new runway and docking facility that the Chinese could exploit when the time is right. A Taiwan military official confirmed that Taiping is lightly defended with coast guard personnel trained by the Taiwan marine corps. The unit is outfitted with only machine guns and 120mm mortars, he said.

Gregson cautions that the US must begin to calculate how quickly things are changing in the region and how China is achieving de facto, if not de jure, sovereignty over the South China Sea.

"In 2010, China claimed that the South China Sea was not a core interest, now it certainly is, with Chinese statements in the recent S&ED that warn us to 'respect their core interests' in light of their recent reclamation efforts so that 'the two countries can keep bilateral relations on the right track.'"

NPA lost an ‘icon’ in Davao clash — Army

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 29): NPA lost an ‘icon’ in Davao clash — Army

The death of Leoncio Pitao alias Commander Parago, one of the communist New People’s Army’s (NPA) key leaders in the region, is a big blow to the rebel force in the hinterlands of Davao City and in neighboring Davao del Norte province, a military official said.

Pitao, leader of the NPA’s Pulang Bagani (Red Warrior) Company 1, was killed along with a female rebel-medic during a clash with government soldiers in Paquibato district at about 2:30 p.m. Sunday, said Col Harold Cabreros, commander of the army’s 1003rd Infantry Brigade, which covers Davao City and some parts of Davao del Norte.

Supt. Antonio Rivera, Southern Mindanao police regional spokesperson, said soldiers from the Army’s 69th Infantry Battalion and the Scout Rangers chanced upon Pitao’s group in Purok (Community) 9, Panalum village.

“His comrades had abandoned him. Villagers positively identified him,” Cabreros told the Inquirer by mobile phone.

The military had been hunting Pitao’s group for a week before Sunday’s encounter, with villagers providing information to soldiers, Cabreros said, adding that the civilian population were fed up with the armed group.

Last week, at least a dozen soldiers and rebels were killed or wounded in a series of clashes in Paquibato, Davao City’s farthest village which shares a mountainous border with Panabo City in Davao del Norte.

“He was cornered,” Cabreros said. “His comrades left him behind and fled after the fighting.”

The man, in his late fifties, was the leader of one of the units of the NPA’s Merardo Arce Command-Southern Mindanao Regional Committee responsible for some of the most audacious raids against soldiers, police and businesses in the Davao region.

Pitao joined the communist movement in 1978 and steadily rose to become one of the most feared NPA leaders in Mindanao. The son of a peasant family in Davao del Sur learned the art of guerrilla warfare from Jorge Madlos, alias Ka (Comrade) Oris.

Pitao was captured by government troops and briefly jailed in 1999, but after being released in 2002, went back to the hills and continued fighting.

In 2009, unidentified armed men, believed to be government soldiers, kidnapped, tortured, sexually assaulted and killed Pitao’s daughter Rebelyn, a 22-year old teacher.

A dozen military men were charged before a rebel court, while charges were also filed against the suspects before a government court. Several of the accused soldiers were snatched by suspected NPA partisans and executed.

Cabreros said Pitao’s death was “liberation of sorts” for the masses in Paquibato who have been subjected to the alleged abuses and excesses of the rebels.

“We have dismantled their underground mass base in Paquibato, and people were now cooperating with us,” said Cabreros.

He said the NPA movement in Davao region would now be in a decline with Pitao’s demise.
“He was their icon,” Cabreros admitted.

He said Pitao was facing multiple cases before government courts and had a bounty of over P1 million on his head.

Following the rebel leader’s death, a civilian informant who tipped off soldiers about Pitao’s presence at the community would receive the cash reward.

No one from the government side was hurt during the incident, the military official said

Opinion : NDF peace consultant denies criminal charges

Letter-to-the editor posted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 29): NDF peace consultant denies criminal charges

I am a consultant of the National Democratic Front (NDF) in its peace negotiations with the Philippine government. I helped prepare the labor and economic agenda in the 1987 peace negotiation and in the current peace talks between the Philippine government and the NDF. I am committed to the struggle for a just and lasting peace and to paving a path by which our country can get its people out of the quagmire of crisis, poverty, mendicancy and corruption that we currently find ourselves in.

Contrary to the claims of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, I have a Jasig (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees) documentation of identification, with the assumed named “Percival Rojo” and number ND 978229. I have been a trade union organizer since the martial law period.

My wife Rosanna Cabusao and companion, Isidro de Lima, were arrested on June 1, 2015, in Molino, Bacoor, Cavite, by some 30 members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police. Cabusao is a researcher/consultant of the Crispin B. Beltran Resource Center and a founding member of Gabriela.

The Philippine government and the AFP have criminalized the work that I do as a peace consultant. In fact, they have arrested and detained peace consultants like myself based on trumped-up criminal charges and planted evidence. They have consistently disregarded and violated the Jasig between the Philippine government and the NDF.

There are 17 NDF peace consultants among the 528 political prisoners in the country today.
I surmise that I am made to appear as the new secretary general of the Communist Party of the Philippines so that the AFP and and PNP could collect a higher monetary reward or bounty for my arrest and for psywar operations. I categorically deny any involvement in the trumped-up multiple charges against me. All accusations hurled against me, my wife Rosanna Cabusao and my companion Isidro de Lima, are false, malicious and baseless.

NDFP peace consultant,
DI number ND 978229
Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-National Capital Region

Civilian who tipped military on Parago to get P5.6M reward

From MindaNews (Jun 29): Civilian who tipped military on Parago to get P5.6M reward

A civilian tipster will get the P5.6-million reward following the killing of top New People’s Army (NPA) leader Leoncio Pitao, popularly known as Commander Parago Sandoval, on June 28 in Paquibato District, the military said.

Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said a civilian tipster who provided vital information in tracking the location of Pitao will get the reward money.

Pitao, chief of the NPA’s Pulang Bagani Command 1, had several standing warrants of arrests for murder, robbery and multiple frustrated murder.

Año said the recent encounters in Paquibato have been a factor in tracking the movement of the band of about 50 rebels.

Año told reporters that they formed “Task Force Minion” several months ago to capture or neutralize Pitao.

“As much as we wanted to get him alive, he chose to fight it out with our soldiers,” Año disclosed, adding that the Task Force Minion was composed of highly-experienced government troopers.

The combined elements of the 69th Infantry Battalion and 6th Scout Ranger Company that neutralized Pitao relentlessly pursued the NPAs, the military official said. “Twenty-four-seven yan,” Año added.

The 57-year-old rebel leader was on the limelight when he led the abduction of Brig. Gen Victor Obillo and Capt. Alex Montealto in 1998.

Aside from Pitao, a female fighter, believed to be a medic, was also killed in the 20-minute firefight.
Año said government troops recovered from the encounter site were two M16 Rifles, three backpacks and several rounds of rifle grenades.

Before the rebel leader’s death, the military had claimed several times Pitao had been killed in encounters.

“Now we are 101 percent sure that we got him based on the dentures and some body marks,” Año said.

Simon Santiago, NPA’s spokesperson in the Davao Region, confirmed that it was indeed Pitao and his medic who were killed in the encounter.

Santiago disclosed that Pitao had been suffering from diabetes and hypertension. “This is not a secret in the community, the masses are aware of his condition,” he said.

He added that many of their colleagues had advised Pitao to seek medical attention but he refused.

“His health condition did not undermine his courage and determination to pursue the revolution and server the poor and the oppressed,” Santiago said in a text message to MindaNews.

Photo: Prayers for Parago

From MindNews (Jun 29): Photo: Prayers for Parago


Evangeline Pitao sprinkles holy water at Leoncio Pitao’s body as relatives and friends offer prayers to the slain leader of the New People’s Army at a funeral parlor in Lasang, Davao City on Monday (29 June 2015). Pitao, also known as Kumander Parago, was killed together with his medical aide Kyle Limpag last Sunday (28 June 2015) at Paquibato District. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Parago vowed never to be captured alive

From MindaNews (Jun 29): Parago vowed never to be captured alive

Karon, di na gyud ko padakop nila nga buhi” (I wouldn’t let them capture me alive this time), Leoncio Pitao, popularly known by his nom de guerre Commander Parago, told MindaNews in an interview in the hinterlands of Paquibato District more than four years ago, on February 21, 2011.

File photo of Leoncio Pitao aka Commander Parago taken on March 8, 2009. Mindanews File Photo by Keith Bacongco
File photo of Leoncio Pitao aka Commander Parago taken on March 8, 2009. Mindanews File Photo by Keith Bacongco

True enough, he wasn’t captured alive. But he was killed when he engaged government troops in a firefight in Purok 9, Barangay Panalum in Paquibato district last Sunday.

Manablahay na ko nila karon” (I’ll get even this time), added Pitao after he recounted his capture in their house in Toril District in November 1999.

He recalled having two hand grenades with him when police and military operatives surrounded him. “Andam na ko unta pabuthon ang granada pero gi-ingnan ko sa akong asawa nga surender na lang kay basin ma disgrasya pati akong mga anak” (I was ready to explode the grenades but my wife told me to surrender instead, worried that my children will be harmed, too), Pitao said.

While under the custody of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP), Parago claimed that he was visited by his former captive, Gen. Victor Obillo.

He was released in 2001 as one of the preconditions for the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF).

During this last interview, he kept on reiterating that he wanted to avenge the killing of her daughter. Parago said the murder of her daughter had fueled his courage and determination to strengthen the revolution in the countryside.

Kung nagtuo ang militar nga mapahuyang nila ako sa pagpatay nila sa akong anak, nasayop sila. Karon di na ko padakop ninyo” (If the military believes that they have weakened my resolve with their killing of my daughter, they’re wrong. Now, I won’t ever let you capture me), the rebel leader stressed.

There was no occasion during this interview except for a week-long ceasefire (from February 15 to 21, 2011), which was declared by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in deference to the start of the peace talks. So I took the opportunity to have a day-trip and see what the guerrillas were doing during the brief ceasefire.

Fond of lechon
During the February interview, a female fighter told me that Parago loves to eat grilled pork. “Kung mingawon na syag baboy tapos duol lang kami sa masa, magpapalit gyud ni si Tatay” (If he misses pork and we’re somewhere near the masses, Tatay would always request to buy pork.)

After taking pictures and conducting short interviews, we heard a loud wail of a pig at the foot of the hill. We saw NPA fighters butcher a pig. The rebels bought the 107-kilo pig for P7,000 from one of their “masa” in the nearby village.

While some called him Ka Ago or Ka Parago, some his comrades and the people of Paquibato District, where he operated, called him Tatay (father).

Another source in the rebel movement disclosed that the late rebel leader was fond of eating lechon (roasted pig) that sometimes he would request for it.

“If there are occasions and there are some guests from the urban areas, Ka Parago would request the guests to bring lechon as a present,” the source said.

A legendary warrior
In Paquibato District, younger cadres looked up to him not just as a military leader but as a father in the guerrilla front.

On several occasions, friends and sympathizers from the urban areas would come to his guerrilla base to celebrate the movement’s anniversary.

Parago was perhaps the busiest of all the NPAs as almost everyone would have themselves take a souvenir picture or even shake hands with him.

Simon Santiago, spokesperson of the NPA in the Davao Region, said Parago is revered by the masses as defender of the poor and the oppressed.

Taas nga pagsaludo ngadto kang Ka Parago sa dedikasyon aron alagaran ang katawhan ug pagtisok sa binhi sa rebolusyon diha sa kasingkasing sa katawhan. Tatay para sa masa ug sa armadong pakigbisog sa katawhan” (We salute Ka Parago for his dedication to serve the people and for sowing the seed of the revolution in the hearts of the people. Tatay for the masses and for the people’s armed revolution), Santiago said in a text message to MindaNews.

“His legend lives on,” an activist, referring to Pitao, posted on his Facebook wall.

In this city and abroad, activists mourn the death of Parago as they described him as a “legendary warrior who offered his life for the oppressed.”

Lingering illness
On Sunday night, a source from the rebel movement told MindaNews that Pitao could barely walk due to his lingering illness.

Moreover, the source said that Pitao may have been injured after he jumped into a ravine when a firefight erupted with the government troops two weeks earlier.

Santiago confirmed this statement, saying that it is already known to the people Pitao has long been suffering from diabetes and hypertension.

“His health problems had affected his mobility but not his courage and determination to serve the people,” he said.

Despite his failing health, Santiago pointed out that Parago had never thought of giving up the revolution.

“Many of our colleagues had advised him to get some rest and attend to his health needs but he refused,” the NPA spokesperson further said.

‘I thought we’re gonna die’
Parago recalled that sometime in 2004, he thought it would be the end for him as the military launched an intensified assault against them in Paquibato District.

“Many of us were wounded, and we had casualties, too. We thought we’re going to die that time because we hadn’t eaten well for a week as we were far from the masses,” he recalled. It was as running gun battle in the mountains that they almost ran out of ammunition, Pitao said.

Parago said joined the NPA in 1978 after his father was killed by government troops in Loreto, Agusan del Sur.

Since then, he was noted in leading daring raids against military and police outposts. He made it to the headlines in 1998 when he led the abduction of Brig. Gen. Victor Obillio and Capt. Alex Montealto.

Sources from the movement described Parago as one of the brilliant military tacticians in the history of the NPA.

He led several raids carting away firearms without firing a single shot. Among them was the raid on the Davao Penal Colony Farm in April 2007. The rebels seized 5 M-16s, 45 Carbines, 46 shotguns and 7 caliber .38 pistols.

Pitao had several standing warrants of arrests for murder, robbery and multiple frustrated murder.
He was married to Evangeline, who is now reportedly in hiding following the death of their daughter Rebelyn in 2009. Pitao accused government forces as behind the killing of her daughter, but the military has denied the accusation.

His eldest son Ryan joined the rebel movement in 2006 when he was 21. The elder Pitao said his son was forced to join the NPA after unidentified men threatened to kill him.

His second daughter Rio, a nurse, reportedly sought a job abroad after the death of her sister.

Ismael Gesmalin Jr., a taxi driver in the city who hails from the same hometown as Pitao, recalled that his father, who was once a member of the Integrated National Police, was ambushed by Pitao in 1983 but survived.

“I could still remember it, I was still in Grade 1 that time. Our later father told us about it after the incident,” Gesmalin said. “But now, his time has come.”

Soft-spoken warrior
The first time I met and had a brief interview with Parago was during the 39th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), on December 26, 2008. During this occasion, the CPP usually invites several journalists to cover the annual event.

In the same occasion, what caught my attention was his customized M14 assault rifle with an M203 grenade launcher attachment. That was the first time I saw that modification of an assault rifle.

It took me a while to approach him because he was so busy entertaining the visitors and the “masa.”
Along with other journalists, I got to interview Parago several more times as we made trips to Paquibato District.

The most frequent was in March 2009 after the killing of her 20-year-old daughter Rebelyn.
During this time, Parago was open to media interviews to air his sentiments and criticize the justice system of the government.

Four days after the killing of her daughter, Parago granted our request for an interview. Along with four other journalists, we went into his lair in Paquibato.

We took a motorcycle ride from Panabo City going to Paquibato. As we reached the end of the dirt road, we hiked uphill for less than half a kilometer.

As we entered into the woods, Parago emerged from the group of NPA guerillas. Clad in his black sweatshirt and pants, he was in full battle gear – M203 grenade launcher ammunitions were wrapped around his chest, along with several magazines of his M16 assault rifle.

Gusto gyud ko makadungog dako na buto karon” (I really want to hear a big explosion this time), he quipped while approaching us. One of his comrades added: “He really wanted to give justice to his daughter’s death.”

Anger was written all over his face. He uttered tough words but remained calm. While he was known as a tough rebel leader, he was a soft-spoken warrior.

Parago named several military intelligence agents as behind the killing of her daughter. In the early part of the interview, his voice cracked. But he managed to bring back his composure.

Towards the end of the interview, he managed to smile and cracked some jokes. He admitted that while it is tough for him to have lost a daughter, he had to work hard to give her “revolutionary justice.”

In my last interview, I asked him when was the last time he saw the downtown of this city.
Basi magkitaay lang ta sa mall” (Who knows we’ll bump into each other in the mall), said Parago with a chuckle.

PHL gov’t: Sea row documentary wasn’t made for China

From GMA News (Jun 29): PHL gov’t: Sea row documentary wasn’t made for China

Malacañang on Monday brushed aside a Chinese foreign ministry official's criticism of the airing of a Philippine government-sponsored documentary on the territorial dispute between the two countries.

In a text message, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the three-part documentary "Karapatan sa Dagat" was not made for, and was not expected to get support from, China.

“The documentary is aimed primarily at our citizens. We cannot expect and do not expect others to agree with the contents and manner of presentation,” Coloma, whose office was part of the documentary’s production, said.

The Palace official added that the documentary’s main purpose was “to create greater awareness about the historical, legal and economic aspects of the issues pertaining to the West Philippine Sea.”
“A well-informed citizenry will be able to make enlightened choices and decisions,” Coloma said.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying earlier accused the Philippines of spreading misinformation and "creating the illusion of the victim” through the documentary.

He also said that the Philippines is trying to incite both the Chinese and the Filipinos by airing the documentary.

The first and second parts of the documentary have already been aired on the state-run television station in the Philippines.

Beijing blasts RP gov’t for docu on maritime rights

From the Daily Tribune (Jun 30): Beijing blasts RP gov’t for docu on maritime rights

China has protested the Philippine government’s ballyhooing the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) issue as it accused Manila of spreading misinformation and “creating the illusion of the victim” in their territorial dispute.

“The Philippines is attempting to mislead and deceive, gain sympathy by cheating and create the illusion of the ‘victim,’” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said in a statement on the ministry’s Web site, referring to the three-part documentary which Manila aired in defending its position.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense had said the film was aimed at raising the public’s awareness on the importance of the territories in the South China Sea and to unite forces of the whole country behind the government in resolving the disputes.

But the Chinese official accused the Philippines of aiming to incite the people of the two countries. Beijing also expressed strong dissatisfaction over the film’s unreasonable and unfounded accusations by ignoring facts and calling white black, Hua said.

“The Chinese side also expresses serious concern over the practice of the incumbent Philippine government in making a fanfare about the South China Sea issue and instigating feelings of contradiction between the Chinese and Filipino people,” Hua said.

She pointed out that the Philippine side attempted to win sympathy and create a false “victim” image of itself by means of misleading and lying. But she said history cannot be overwritten and facts cannot be fabricated.

“It is merely the Philippines’ expansionist policy and blatant infringement on China’s sovereignty and interests that has given rise to the China-Philippines disputes over the South China Sea,” Hua stressed.

She pointed out that the islands in the South China Sea belong to China, adding Beijing was the first one to discover, name and develop these islands.

“It was also the first country to conduct sovereign jurisdiction on these islands and has remained so since then,” the official added.

“This is proved by adequate historical and legal evidence,” Hua said.

According to her, “The root of the China-Philippines dispute on the South China Sea lies in the illegal territorial claim that the Philippine side raised on part of China’s Nansha Islands and its occupation of some of the islands.”

She pointed out that the legal documents determining the territorial scope of the Philippines, including the Paris Treaty and Washington Treaty signed between the United States and Spain in 1898 and 1900, and the Treaty between the United States and Britain signed in 1930, have all excluded China’s Nansha Islands and Huangyan Island from Philippine territories.

Hua said in a long period of time after, the internal laws of the Philippines, including the Constitution, have repeatedly reaffirmed the stipulations on Philippine territories that the above mentioned treaties have made.

According to her, after the end of the World War II, especially after the beginning of the Cold War, the Philippines began to covet China’s Nansha Islands. Since the 1970s, the Philippines has used force to occupy eight of China’s Nansha Islands one by one, including Mahuan Island, Feixin Island, Zhongye Island, Beizi Island, Nanyao Island, Xiyue Island, Shuanghuang Shoal and Siling Reef.

Hua said over the long years, the Philippines has conducted a great number of construction and arms deployments on the stolen islands, continuously built and upgraded airports, docks, barracks, elevated houses, schools and other facilities.

“China has always firmly opposed the illegal occupation by the Philippine side and repeatedly and sternly demanded they withdraw all personnel and facilities from the islands of China,” the official added.