Wednesday, August 5, 2015

US eases restrictions on visiting soldiers to PH

From ABS-CBN (Aug 5): US eases restrictions on visiting soldiers to PH

Months after the death of Filipina transgender woman Jennifer Laude allegedly in the hands of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, American soldiers have now been allowed once more to leave their ships during port calls in Subic Bay, but with some restrictions.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Roberto Garcia said that when Admiral Harry Harris assumed command of the US Pacific Command (PACOM) last May, he allowed US troops to again enjoy off-duty recreational activities in Subic.

They can go to Subic Freeport's malls, restaurants, and beaches, but Garcia said unlike before, they are no longer allowed to leave the Freeport.

The US PACOM is the mother unit of all US forces operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines.

"Dati-dati habang nandun yung Pemberton case, di sila pinapababa, dun lang sila. Ang paalam nga sa 'kin baka daw pwede mag-barbecue sila sa tabi. Kahit man lang daw sa pantalan makababa sila," recalled Garcia.

"Pero with the change of command, they've been allowed to come down. Pero they've been restricted to the Freeport."

According to Garcia, SBMA was requested by US PACOM to enforce this restriction. "Mga gates namin di sila makakalabas. That's under our orders. Kasi yun ang instruction sa amin."

Garcia has also observed changes in the US forces' movement when they are not on their ships and not on duty.

"They have their own rules. Pagkaalam ko ang buddy system dati nila dalawa, ngayon apat. Kung lalabas sila kailangan apat, so that they can look out for each other. Pag ang isa malasing kaya kargahin ng tatlo," he said.

The crew of the USNS Mercy is exempt from these restrictions because they are a non-combatant force.

But Capt. Christopher Engdahl USN, Mission Commander of the Pacific Partnership 2015, said they are aware of the Pemberton case, and that they too are abiding by rules set forth by US PACOM.

"We acknowledge the incident, and the tragedy that happened to all the folks involved," Engdahl said. "On that note, we are following the Pacific Command guidance for all of our off duty activities."

Engdahl said the USNS Mercy's medical and civilian personnel, however, will be allowed to go where they please.

"Those guidelines that the local government has given are not restrictive in the sense that we can't leave the ship and we can't enjoy the culture that Subic provides us. The beaches, the tours. I know sailors are going as far as Manila on shopping excursions I think."

Garcia welcomes the increased presence of US troops in Subic, saying it serves both as a counterbalance to China's creeping assertion, and a boost to Subic's economy.

BIFF remnants engage in terror activities anew

From Ang Malaya (Aug 5): BIFF remnants engage in terror activities anew

Suspected members of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) harassed anew a military base in Maguindanao, an Army spokesperson said August 4. Sixth Infantry Division (6ID) spokesperson Caption Joann Petinglay said the attack transpired 8 pm at 34th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

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

“We expect this from the BIFF, mahirap mahilum ang sugat ng nakaraan,” she said. The military has reduced the strength of BIFF from 100 into less than 20 after a month-long air and ground assaults in February.

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

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

BRP Del Pilar escorts BRPs Batak, Ivatan: To arrive in Cavite on Friday

From Ang Malaya (Aug 5): US submarine, hospital ship, fast command vessel in Philippines right now

United States Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) arrived in Subic Bay, August 4 for the second half of its mission stop in Philippines for Pacific Partnership 2015 (PP15). Mercy will leave Subic Bay on August 14 and will sail to Da Nang, Vietnam to continue its PP15 mission.

Also in Subic right now is a Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, USS Chicago (SSN-721), as part of its Western Pacific deployment, the US Embassy in Manila said.

A secondary platform for PP15, US Military Sealift Command joint high speed vessel USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3), also arrived in San Fernando, La Union yesterday. USNS Millinocket will stay in La Union until August 15.

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

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

South China Sea land reclamation 'finished' but construction to go on

From InterAksyon (Aug 5): South China Sea land reclamation 'finished' but construction to go on

An airstrip being constructed on land reclaimed by China on Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands. (AFP/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe)

China said on Wednesday it has finished the land reclamation work in the South China Sea that has brought growing condemnation from its neighbors and the United States.

But a Southeast Asian diplomatic source said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his counterparts from the region at a high-level security forum that Beijing would press on with plans for construction on the newly created islands.

"China has already stopped. You look, who is building? Take a plane and look for yourself," Wang told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting when asked about the reclamation work.

China has sparked alarm by expanding tiny reefs in the flashpoint sea and constructing military posts on some of them to shore up its disputed territorial claims to most of the sea.

Its neighbors have increasingly chafed at actions seen as violating a pledge by rival claimants to the strategic seaway not to take steps that could stoke conflict.

During a meeting with his Southeast Asian counterparts on Wednesday, Wang told them that land reclamation was completed but that construction would continue, the diplomatic source said.

Wang said the construction projects would include lighthouses, medical and emergency rescue facilities and meteorological and marine installations, the source added.

The security forum is hosted by the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

ASEAN has for years called on China to negotiate a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, a binding set of rules aimed at preventing actions that lead to conflict.

Beijing showed little interest but in 2013 agreed to engage in "consultations" on the issue, although not full negotiations.

Wang called Wednesday for the process to be speeded up.

"Countries bordering the South China Sea should ... speed up the COC consultations and actively explore preventative measures for managing maritime risks," he told reporters.

Analysts, however, have long said China was seeking to slow the process while building up its presence on disputed islets.

Human Rights Watch says new Philippine military chief should ensure rights reforms

Posted to the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 5): Human Rights Watch says new Philippine military chief should ensure rights reforms 

The Human Rights Watch said the Philippine military should take all necessary and appropriate action to prevent abuses by its personnel and to ensure accountability for human rights violators.

“General Iriberri is now the point man for making sure the Philippine armed forces stop committing abuses and respect human rights. It’s his responsibility to ensure the military meets its international legal obligations throughout the Philippine archipelago,” Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director said in a letter to new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Hernando Iriberri.

President Aquino named Iriberri, the former commander of the army, to the position on July 10, 2015.

Kine said Iriberri should ensure prompt, transparent, and impartial investigations of abuses in which military personnel are implicated, and take appropriate action against personnel responsible.

Philippine military personnel continue to be implicated in violations of international humanitarian law in armed conflict situations involving the communist New People’s Army and Moro insurgents.
Abuses include arbitrary arrests, torture and unlawful killings of civilians and rebel fighters in custody. The armed forces should uphold international humanitarian law in conflict areas and Iriberri should ensure accountability for AFP abuses, Kine further said.

He said Iriberri should also investigate and appropriately punish military elements implicated in the harassment of activists, which includes red-baiting – the practice of publicly smearing government critics as state enemies – that in many instances has resulted in attacks against the subjects of the harassment.

Iriberri should likewise ensure effective command and control of paramilitary groups, which have long been responsible for serious human rights abuses. Until such abusive units are disarmed and disbanded, the AFP will be responsible for ensuring that they act in accordance with the law, Kine said.

To start with, he added, the AFP’s Human Rights Office should be reformed because it has not lived up to its mandate and responsibilities. Transforming the AFP Human Rights Office into a more responsive arm of the military requires a clear statement from Iriberri regarding the importance of this office to promote and protect human rights, he said.

The military should also join the new international Safe Schools Declaration, which has been signed by 47 countries. The declaration is a political commitment to do more to protect students, teachers, and schools from the negative consequences of armed conflict.

“General Iriberri has the time and the opportunity to make greater respect for human rights a priority of the Philippines armed forces. It is long overdue for the Philippine military to deliver on its human rights rhetoric,” Kine said.

Protesters demand expulsion of North Cotabato lawmaker

From the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 5): Protesters demand expulsion of North Cotabato lawmaker

Various groups have protested Wednesday in front of the House of Representatives and demanded the expulsion of North Cotabato lawmaker Nancy Catamco from the National Cultural Communities committee which she heads.

Among those that joined the protest were Salinlahi, Save Our Schools network (SOS) and Sulong Katribu. The group lambasted Catamco and accused her of being “anti-indigenous peoples” following a police raid at the compound of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines in Davao City recently where tribesmen had been staying after fleeing military operations in the province.

Kharlo Manano, Secretary-General of Salinlahi and lead convener of the SOS network, said the evacuees in Davao City were further made to suffer in the recent attempts of the police, military and Alamara militias upon the alleged order of Catamco, forcing them to return home.

“They used brute force in their so-called rescue without even addressing the intensifying militarization in their communities, the very reason why the lumads, including more than 500 children, sought refuge in Davao City,” Manano said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

He said the incident proved how the Aquino government continues to turn a blind eye on the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples. He said even the United Nation Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Persons Chaloka Beyani raised this concern over the plight of the 700 lumad refugees because of the presence of military and paramilitary groups in their communities.

Beyani, in his statement, also mentioned his concern over the alleged forced recruitment of lumad tribesmen into the para-military group as well as the reported cases of schools being closed or occupied by government troops and miltias and hampering the access to education of indigenous children.

Catamco has previously denied all allegations against her.

Update: Army hunts down NPAs in South Cotabato attacks

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): Update: Army hunts down NPAs in South Cotabato attacks

Military authorities here have launched a province wide manhunt against a band of communist guerrillas who killed a security guard of a banana company and wounded five soldiers in an attack late Tuesday night in Tampakan town.

Colonel Ronald Jess Alcudia, 27th Infantry Battalion commander, said the soldiers are now out of danger.

He said government forces and militiamen are pursuing them, in due time they will answer to the atrocities committed to peacekeepers.

He said a platoon size soldiers were on foot patrol near the banana firm’s airstrip when attacked by undetermined number of armed men believed to be New Peoples’ Army (NPA) in Barangay Kipalbig, Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Citing intelligence reports, Alcudia said the armed men were planning to inflict damages to the multi-national firm, including the plot destroy the light aircraft parked at the firm’s airstrip.

Responding to the report, Alcudia deployed a team of soldiers to Barangay Kipalbig as peacekeepers after armed men were sighted in the interior village.

He identified the slain security guard as as Melchor Galamagang who was declared dead on arrival at the South Cotabato provincial hospital here.

The wounded infantrymen were Privates First Class (PFC) John Ivan Suarte, Danny Mark Tandog, John Paul Salindong Mohammad Ali at Alfred Ablanzar.

Three of them were outpatient for suffering minor injuries while Ali and Ablanzar were moved to a private hospital in Gen. Santos City.

A 30-minute fire fight ensued until the guerrillas fled to the hinterlands of Barangay Kipalbig after the 11 p.m. skirmishes.

Alcudia could not specifically say whether or not the armed men suffered casualties. But added the soldiers found blood stain in the armed men's escape route.

Villagers also told police they saw several wounded armed men carried by fleeing guerrillas.

The NPAs have been mulcting the firm, demanding hundreds of thousands of "protection money" but the banana plantation management ignored the demand and seek government protection.

Companies and business establishments whose owners refuse to give in to the NPA extortion activities were subjected to harassment, including burning of heavy equipment and assassination of firm executives.

The military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines have been waging decades of war against the powerful and mighty Philippine military, to no avail.

Soldiers have been reaching out to far flung communities through its peace and development operation despite the danger of land mine, ambuscades and treacherous attacks by NPAs.

6th ID donates 50 arm chairs to Maguindanao elementary school

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): 6th ID donates 50 arm chairs to Maguindanao elementary school

In line with its community development mission, the 6th Infantry Division donated 50 arm chairs to the Bakat Elementary School, Rajah Buayan town, Maguindanao Tuesday.

The turn over of the donation was held after the flag-raising ceremonies, said 6th Infantry Division public affairs office chief Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay.

Present during the activity were 6th Infantry Division commander Major Gen. Edmundo R. Pangilinan, Rajah Buayan Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan and officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Maguindanao.

Mayor Ampatuan expressed his thanks to the 6th Infantry Division for catalyzing stakeholders into bringing development projects to Bakat and to his municipality.

For his part, Pangilinan lauded the provincial officials of Maguindanao for aiding them in the different peace and development projects in Central Mindanao.

After the donation of the chairs, a feeding program for students of the Bakat Elementary School was also conducted to help combat malnutrition.

Davao Sur town gets PHP74-M road concreting project from PAMANA

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): Davao Sur town gets PHP74-M road concreting project from PAMANA

MAGSAYSAY, Davao del Sur -- The national government is currently implementing a PHP74-million road concreting project in a far-flung sitio of Barangay Bacungan here.

According to Mayor Arthur Davin, the project comes from the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or Peaceful and Resilient Communities (PAMANA) program of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process, which is targeting areas known to be haven of insurgents.

“This project is the national government’s peace and development framework in empowering conflict-affected areas in the country,” Davin said, adding that it follows a convergence strategy to close the gaps in development and bring progress to areas where they are needed the most.

A complementary track to peace negotiations, PAMANA ensures that communities benefit from improved delivery of basic social services and are served by a responsive, transparent and accountable government.

He said residents will be encouraged to till their farms to be planted with high-valued commodities like cacao, banana cardava, rubber, abaca and cassava.

Davin said the local government’s counterpart is PHP7 million while the PHP67 million comes from the national government to implement the seven-kilometer farm-to-market road concreting.

Municipal Engineer Haide dela Torre said that the project is already 37 percent complete and is expected to be fully completed before the year ends.

Dela Torre also said that they are also prioritizing the employment of workers who are beneficiaries of the National Housing Targeting System (NHTS) or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

30 rebel returnees receive assistance from government’s CLIP program

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): 30 rebel returnees receive assistance from government’s CLIP program

TAGUM CITY, Davao del Norte -- Thirty rebel returnees recently received monetary assistance through the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) of the government.

The former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were given a total of PHP65,000 cash assistance to build their livelihood as they start a new life.

In his message, Governor Rodolfo del Rosario expressed his joy the former rebels decided to return to the fold of the law.

“The province is always ready to help so that you can come back to your normal life, back into the folds of the law,” the governor said.

Two of the beneficiaries gave their grateful response, conveying their appreciation to the government for giving them the opportunity to lead a normal life after spending years in the revolutionary movement.

CLIP is a program under the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process which aims to give customized package and livelihood assistance to facilitate mainstreaming of former rebels as productive citizens.

(Feature) Purging: A way of life in rebel ranks, says PA's 10th ID commander

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): (Feature) Purging: A way of life in rebel ranks, says PA's 10th ID commander

The recent incidents involving the death of three rebel sympathizers from the hands of their comrades are characteristics of the purging which is a way of life in the New People's Army (NPA) ranks.

This was how Brig. Gen. Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr., acting commander of the Philippine Army's 10th Infantry Division, described the killing of three known rebel supporters in Paquibato District, Davao City last Aug. 1.

“These events are characteristic of purging within the ranks of the NPA,” Madrigal said.

“They are now murdering their own comrades in an effort to cleanse their ranks. The NPA has exposed its ugly head. We call on everybody to join hands with us to stop this menace to society,” he added.

The three victims were identified as Nelson Anggoy, Joel Caran, and Henry Delgado.

1st Lt. Alexandre Cabales, 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the three men were killed by their comrades-in-arms thinking that they had something to do with the recent death and capture of two ranking rebel leaders in the area.

These were Pulang Bagani Command leader Leoncio Pitao, alias "Cmdr. Parago" who was killed during an encounter last June, and his successor Christopher Rollon, alias "Joel" who was captured last July.

Cabales said that Anggoy had a standing warrant of arrest together with Pitao and was one of the so-called "responsableng masa" of the NPA.

Reports indicated that Anggoy was dragged by three M-16 armed rebels from his home in Barangay Proper, Paguibato District, at past 7 p.m. last Saturday.

Cabales said that Anggoy's bullet-riddled body was later discovered in Purok Narra, also of the same locality, along with several M-16 shells, at 7:45 p.m.

Caran, who lived just across the Anggoy residence, was shot dead by the same rebels while seated in front of his house.

Cabales added that another group of rebels gunned down Delgado in cold blood in front of his wife the same night at their residence in Barangay Bunawan, Bunawan District.

Aussie-donated LCHs arriving in Cavite on Friday --PN

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): Aussie-donated LCHs arriving in Cavite on Friday --PN

The two landing craft heavies (LCHs), which were donated by the Australian government to the Philippine Navy last January, will be arriving in Sangley Point, Cavite on Friday.

This was disclosed by PN flag officer-in-command Vice Admiral Jesus C. Millan in a message to the PNA on Wednesday.

Sangley Point, Cavite is the headquarters of the Philippine Fleet.

"For info, the two LCHs, escorted by BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) (have sailed and passed) the waters of Zamboanga last night (Tuesday) and estimated to be in Cavite by Friday," he said.

When asked whether the ships will be given a welcome ceremony this coming Monday, his retirement day, Millan said that this depends on weather conditions.

"Due to typhoon 'Hanna,' we are still waiting the assessment and recommendation of the Philippine Fleet," the PN chief said.

The LCHs left Cairns, Australia for their voyage to the Philippines last July 23.

The two ships were named BRP Ivatan (AT-298) and BRP Batak (AT-299). They will be joining the five other landing craft units in PN service.

"The vessels will also be useful in transporting troops from one operational area to another," Millan said.

Prior the turnover and commissioning, Millan and Royal Australian Navy head Vice Admiral Tim Barret signed a memorandum of agreement regarding the transfer of the LCHs.

The signing was witnessed by Philippine Fleet commander Rear Admiral Leopoldo M. Alano and Sealift Amphibious Force head Commodore Narciso A. Vingson.

The Australian government announced the donation of the two LCHs last January following the decommissioning of the vessels on November 2014.

The two donated LCHs are formerly named the HMAS Tarakan and HMAS Brunei.

AFP says it has adequate forces for contingencies that may be caused by typhoon 'Hanna'

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 5): AFP says it has adequate forces for contingencies that may be caused by typhoon 'Hanna'

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced that it has adequate forces to respond to possible contingencies that may be caused by powerful typhoon "Hanna" which entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) Wednesday morning.

Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP public affairs office chief, said this is possible as military units which participated in the July 30 earthquake drill are still present in Metro Manila and ready for duty.

These include the 525th Engineering Battalion in Libis, Quezon City, which is the primary humanitarian assistance and disaster relief unit of the military.

Other units include those from the Northern Luzon and Southern Luzon Commands which can deploy troops and emergency vehicles should Metro Manila be hit by flooding.

Aside from this, Detoyato stressed that Metro Manila-based military units have ample trucks in reserve and these can be deployed to help stranded passengers if needed.

In its latest weather bulletin, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said that as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, typhoon "Hanna" was located at 1,360 kilometers east of Calayan, Cagayan (19.7°N, 134.4°E) packed with maximum sustained winds of 195 kilometers per hour (kph) near the center and gustiness of up to 230 kph.

It is forecast to move west-northwest at 20 kph toward Taiwan.

Weathermen said that if it maintains its speed and movement, "Hanna" is expected to be at 910 km east- northeast of Calayan, Cagayan or at 850 km east of Itbayat, Batanes by Thursday morning.

By Friday morning, it is forecast to be at 375 km east- northeast of Itbayat, Batanes and at 400 km north-northwest of Itbayat, Batanes by Saturday morning.