Sunday, October 18, 2015

Charges filed vs physician’s abductors in Zambo

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Oct 18): Charges filed vs physician’s abductors in Zambo

THE police have filed criminal case against the suspects behind botched abduction of a physician in an east coast village of Zamboanga, an official announced Sunday.

Superintendent Nonito Asdai, Police Station 6 chief, said an inquest case for attempted abduction was filed on Saturday before the City Prosecutor’s Office against the suspects.

Asdai said one of the suspects was identified a Kusar Atari, who was arrested just after the botched abduction of Dr. Armando Iturralde last Thursday night in the village of Talon-Talon, east of this city.

Iturralde was busy attending his patients when Atari and his companions arrived and forcibly dragged the physician outside the clinic.
However, Iturralde managed to get loose and ran towards the second floor of his clinic and hid until police arrived.

Police Station 6 personnel arrested Atari while his companions sped towards the mangrove area aboard a white multicab vehicle.

Asdai said Atari has availed his right to preliminary investigation by signing 15 days waiver. The latter is presently detained at the Police Station 6 headquarters.

Bomb experts detonate 3 IEDs planted on NGCP tower in Cotabato

From GMA News (Oct 18): Bomb experts detonate 3 IEDs planted on NGCP tower in Cotabato

Military bomb experts successfully detonated at least three Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) attached to a National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) steel tower in Carmen, Cotabato on Sunday evening, a top police official said.

According to North Cotabato Police Provincial Office (NCPPO) spokesperson Superintendent Bernard Tayong, unidentified suspects planted at least three improvised explosive devices at the foot of steel tower number 110 in Barangay Tacupan in Carmen town.

The IEDs were fashioned from 60-mm mortars with a mobile phone as command detonator.

Tayong said the IEDs were found by a farmer in Sitio Balas, Barangay Tacupan at around 7:45 p.m.

“The farmer immediately informed village officials that also called police assistance to cordon off the area,” Tayong said.

He added that it cannot be determined yet whether the same suspects are responsible for planting IEDs at the NGCP's steel towers in the town of Pikit, also in North Cotabato on October 10.

“Investigation is ongoing to determine the identity of the group behind this latest attact,” he said.

Authorities believe that the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were the ones behind the toppling of the NGCP towers in Pikit.

MILF: CSOs, NGOs pay “Peace Visit to Bangsamoro” at Camp Darapanan

Posted to the MILF Website (Oct 18): CSOs, NGOs pay “Peace Visit to Bangsamoro” at Camp Darapanan

CSOs, NGOs pay “Peace Visit to Bangsamoro” at Camp Darapanan

Officers and representatives of different organizations paid visit dubbed as “Peace visit to Bangsamoro” to the leadership of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at its administrative base in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on October 15.

Delegates comes from the Initiative for International Dialogue (IID), Mindanao Peace Weavers (MPW), All Out Peace (AOP), Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC), SALIGAN, Lanao Peace Partners (LPP), Mindanao Solidarity Network (MSN), Balay Rehab,  Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ), Mindanao People’s Peace Movement (MPPM), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Agong Peace Network, ICON-SP, Mindanao Peace Building Institute  (MPI), Peacebuilders Community, and the Women Engaged in Action on 1325 (WEAct).

Mr. Gus Miclat headed the delegation and acted as facilitator during the meeting between the CSO/NGO delegation and the MILF leadership. The purpose of visit is to manifest their support to the peace process and their concerns about the passage of BBL.

During the meeting, both parties have weaved ideas on how best to support and pursue moves that may contribute in resolving Mindanao conflict. The delegation despite belonging to different organizations has one common dream that someday they may feel and see a peaceful, and developing community to live in.

The CSOs and NGOs also committed to continue their advocacy for the advancement of peace and the peace process as the MILF leadership considers them as important partners in the search for lasting peace and prosperity in the Bangsamoro.

MILF: HWPL Deputy Director Dongkyun Woo visits MILF Leadership

Posted to the MILF Website (Oct 18): HWPL Deputy Director Dongkyun Woo visits MILF Leadership

HWPL Deputy Director Dongkyun Woo visits MILF Leadership

MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim warmly received Mr. Dongkyun Woo, Deputy Director of South East Asia of the Heavenly Culture World Peace Restoration of Light (HWPL who visited the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) administrative headquarters, Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on October 12. He was accompanied by Mr. Joon Park.

It can be recalled that HWPL thru its Chairman Man Hee Lee invited MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to the 1st Annual Commemoration of September 18th  World Alliance of Religion’s Peace Summit in Seoul, Korea.

The visit aims for a more interrelations on peace building. Chairman Al Hajj Murad gave some updates on how the Bangsamoro peace process is going on.  HWPL sees the Bangsamoro case as a ‘model’ in the course of resolving conflicts.

According to Director Woo, Chairman Lee has a burning heart to help in achieving peace in Mindanao, because they believe that once conflict in Mindanao is ends, it will spread as a good example to pursue peace in other parts of the globe.

The MILF leadership and HWPL shared common goal and vision, to achieve genuine peace and make it a legacy for the generations to come. Both parties also agreed in principle that the HWL will support the peace efforts in the Bangsamoro and the MILF in return will partner with HWPL in their vision to achieve world peace.

The HWPL visitors were so glad to have visited the camp for having been enlightened on the struggle for peace of Bangsamoro.

Defense chief makes strong statement before Chinese, ASEAN counterparts

Posted to Ang Malaya (Oct 18): Defense chief makes strong statement before Chinese, ASEAN counterparts

During the China-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Informal Meeting in Beijing, China Friday, Department of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that “maritime disputes are complex issues that should be resolved by rules-based solutions.”

And as such, parties involved must refrain from unilateral action that can change the status quo and increase the tension.

“We must keep the lines of communication open through dialogues with all parties involved.”

The Philippines is presently involved in maritime dispute with China regarding some features of the West Philippine Sea. The country is resolved to ease the tension via diplomatic means.

As this develops, Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan called upon ASEAN and China to continue promoting practical cooperation such as in the areas of peacekeeping operations, joint patrols, disaster response and deepening of trust between the concerned countries.

In view of the adoption of the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), when China hosted the Western Pacific Naval Symposium in 2014, China proposed to conduct joint training on CUES in 2016.

Chang stressed that China would not seek hegemony, its foreign policy is defensive in nature, and it adopted a strategy of active defense –- proof of which is the reduction of the People’s Liberation Army’s strength by 300,000.

Esscom foiled nine kidnapping attempts since Esszone curfew

From the New Straits Times Online (Oct 19): Esscom foiled nine kidnapping attempts since Esszone curfew 

Nine attempts of kidnapping for ransom were foiled with the curfew implementation in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) since July last year.

Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) operations centre chief of staff Datuk Md Rahim Mohamad said the kidnappers targetted on tourists going for diving activities in certain areas.

He attributed the success in foiling the kidnap to cooperation from all quarters, including resort operators in Esszone.

"Therefore, we hope such a cooperation can be continued. We also call on resort operators to comply with all the guidelines and advice given by Esscom, especially in their handling of tourists going for diving activities in risk areas," he added.

He said this during a security briefing to resort operators at the Pulau Mabul police station near here today.

Md Rahim said Esscom had identified several measures to be observed by resort operators to enhance security of tourists in the Esszone area.

"Resort operators also have to ensure their boats are equipped with a systematic communication system as they are required to report to the security team before carrying diving activities at sea," he added. --Bernama

Sabah beefs up security measures to prevent tourist kidnappings

From the Straits Times (Oct 18): Sabah beefs up security measures to prevent tourist kidnappings

Security personnel on duty on Pom Pom Island, on Sabah's east coast, on Nov 15, 2013.

Security personnel on duty on Pom Pom Island, on Sabah's east coast, on Nov 15, 2013. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Tour boat operators in Sabah will be required to provide security measures for tourist activities including diving and island hopping to prevent cross-border kidnapping by groups like the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf militants.

These new regulations will be enforced by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), The Star newspaper reported on Sunday (Oct 18), citing Esscom deputy commander Datuk Md. Rahim Mohamad.

The announcement came months after Malaysians Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, and Bernard Then Ted Fen, 39, were grabbed from the Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in the eastern state while having dinner on May 14.

They are believed to be held by Abu Sayyaf militants on Jolo Island. The militants have threatened to behead one of the captives if their demand for 30 million pesos (S$902,340) in ransom is not met.
Efforts to rescue the duo are still underway.

Md. Rahim said tour operators will now be required to send their boat crews to the nearest police station for special training. Boats must also be installed with systematic communication systems before they are allowed to head out to sea.

"Operators must also report to assigned security officials before conducting diving activities, while security officials will be placed in a boat together with the tourists for security reasons," he said, according to The Star.

He advised boat operators to leave diving sites immediately if they notice the presence of unknown individuals.

"We do not allow anyone to carry out activities such as diving in high-risk areas that Esscom has highlighted," he added.

"The east coast is a large area to look after and if we do not cooperate and work as a team, it will be very difficult to prevent crime," he said.

BCDA lauds SC’s Bonifacio lot ruling

From the Manila Times (Oct 16): BCDA lauds SC’s Bonifacio lot ruling

State-owned Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) lauded the recent decision of the Supreme Court (SC) to uphold an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeals (CA) to cancel ownership of the Navy Officers’ Village Association Inc. (NOVAI) on a posh 47-hectare parcel of land at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.

The SC decision will ultimately benefit the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the agency said.

BCDA President and Chief Executive Officer Arnel Paciano Casanova said in a statement that by recovering the NOVAI land, the government will now be able to pursue plans to further strengthen BCDA’s role in improving the country’s defense capabilities and internal security.

The NOVAI is a group of retired military officers claiming ownership of the disputed property inside the former Fort Bonifacio Military Reservation (FBMR).

“The high tribunal has spoken, and justice is served,” Casanova said.  “This is a clear message that no one is above the law, including usurpers and land grabbers from the ranks of retired military generals.”

The BCDA is the agency created under Republic Act (RA) 7227, specifically to own and administer military reservations, including those located inside the FBMR.

The 475,009 square-meter parcel of land is now estimated to be worth more than P47 billion, based on the current selling price of about P100,000 per square-meter.

BCDA remittances help fund the national government’s development projects, including the modernization of the AFP to improve the country’s internal security and external defense.

From January 2010 to May 2015, BCDA remitted P14.7 billion to the Bureau of Treasury and the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

The AFP’s share from these remittances from January 2010 to May 2015 totals P6.7 billion.

The BCDA earlier petitioned that NOVAI be prohibited to acquire the said property, being an inalienable land of public domain at that time.

The agency said, “Any sale of land in violation of the Constitution or of the provisions of RA 274 and RA 730, and the Public Land Act, is null and void. Any title, which may have been issued by mistake or error on the part of a public official, can be cancelled at any time by the state.”

In the Notice of Judgment promulgated on August 3 by acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo, Jose Catral Mendoza, and Marvic Leonen, the SC Second Division resolved “to deny NOVAl’s petition for review on certiorari, as we find no reversible error committed by the CA in issuing its December 28, 2006 decision and March 28, 2007 resolution.”

On August 20, 2004, the CA reversed and set aside the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 67, Pasig City, which dismissed the complaint filed by the government against NOVAI.

The CA ruled that the property claimed by NOVAI “is inalienable land of the public domain and cannot be disposed of or be the subject of a sale” and emphasized that the property remained reserved for the military veterans’ rehabilitation purposes under Proclamation 478, the latest executive issuance affecting the property.

By developing former military camps, BCDA’s revenues under Casanova steadily increased from P3.5 billion in 2011 to P11.8 billion in 2015, while BCDA’s dividend contributions to the national government rose from P2.1 billion to P3.2 billion from 2011 to 2015.

Feuding militant groups at it again over polls

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 18): Feuding militant groups at it again over polls

The long-running feud between leftist groups Akbayan and Bayan Muna is likely to erupt anew in the 2016 elections.

Akbayan Rep. Barry Gutierrez fired the first shot as he disparaged Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares for seeking Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada’s endorsement for his senatorial run and for former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño’s bid to return to Congress.

In an interview, Gutierrez said he was slightly disappointed when former National Democratic Front (NDF) spokesperson Satur Ocampo agreed to share the stage with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. when they both ran for the Senate under the Nacionalista Party in the 2010 elections. Ocampo lost and Marcos won.

But when he heard that Estrada was one of the VIPs who attended the Sept. 30 launch of Colmenares’ senatorial bid, he said:

“Now it is clear that they (Bayan Muna) will go where the political advantage is. I am not surprised that they are now with Erap,” said Gutierrez, who noted that Bayan Muna was among the groups that played a key role in Edsa II which cut short Estrada’s presidential term in 2001.

“What they are practicing is politics of convenience. While it (Bayan Muna) is a national party which can enter into a coalition with other parties, it should have been more discerning in its choices, especially when it claimed to have progressive principles,” said Gutierrez. “Probably they have lost their way.”

Bayan Muna did not reply to the Inquirer’s calls or text messages.

Bayan Muna had also criticized Akbayan for its coalition with President Aquino, whom it perceived to be a champion of landlords since his family controls Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

Bayan Muna also lashed out at the P14-million donation made by three of Mr. Aquino’s sisters to Akbayan in the 2010 elections.

Bayan Muna also criticized Akbayan’s officials for accepting her juicy positions in the Aquino administration: political adviser Ronald Llamas, Joel Rocamora, head of the National Anti-Poverty Commission; Mario Agujo, member of the Government Service Insurance System board; Social Security System Commissioner Daniel Edralin; National Youth Commission Commissioner Percival Cendaña, and Angelina Ludovice-Katoh, commissioner in the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor.

The feud between Akbayan and Bayan Muna started in 1993 with a clash in ideology between those who agreed with Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison (Bayan Muna) and those who disagreed with him (Akbayan).

Alakazam! Army man weaves magic of peace

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 18): Alakazam! Army man weaves magic of peace

MAGICAL MOMENT  Part-time magician  Pfc. Francis Travenio transforms handkerchiefs into parasols and red canes before his audience of Mandaya folk in Compostela Valley province. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

MAGICAL MOMENT Part-time magician Pfc. Francis Travenio transforms handkerchiefs into parasols and red canes before his audience of Mandaya folk in Compostela Valley province. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
COMPOSTELA VALLEY, PhilippinesIf he could pull peace out of his combat boots, Pfc. Francis Carlo Travenio of the Philippine Army would gladly do so.

But as it is, the part-time magician could only pull out kerchiefs that magically turn into red canes or release doves from a parasol, before a transfixed crowd of children amazed at the sight of a military man offering entertainment instead of striking fear in the community.

“I want people to feel comfortable in the military’s presence,” Travenio said of his well-applauded show at the multiagency “Serbisyo Caravan” for the Mandaya indigenous folk. “It’s so the kids won’t be scared to approach us,” he added.

A favorite act that held the children—and adults—in thrall was this magician’s trick of turning kerchiefs into various objects with a wave of his hand.

Waving three kerchiefs vigorously onstage, Travenio paused to pull another handkerchief from his combat boots. Then with a quick movement of his hands, he transformed the cloth into a red cane, drawing oohhs and aahhs from his young audience.

Then with a quick move of the hand, he turned another kerchief into a small umbrella before the amazed crowd.

Travenio ended his show with a bow and a shower of candies that had even the other soldiers in the audience giving him vigorous applause.

Not his childhood dream

Performing before a young audience has become part of his duties, said this soldier of eight years. His show before the Mandaya people was his 10th since officials of the 701st Infantry Brigade, to which he belongs, noticed his special talent, learned, he said, from watching YouTube videos of magic tricks.

But becoming a part-time magician was not his childhood dream, said this Tagum City native.

“I thought of this only when I joined the military,” Travenio said, adding that he wanted to appeal to children who would flee upon seeing soldiers.

“I wanted to change that,” he added.

Travenio believes his show could help win the hearts and minds of children in insurgency-affected areas like Compostela Valley and other areas in Davao.

The Mandaya children in his audience, who belong to the largest indigenous group in Davao, are perennially caught in the cross fire between the military and the New People’s Army. With the Serbisyo Caravan, the government hopes to bring social services to the doorstep of the Mandaya folk and win back their trust.

Change of pace

“This shows the soft side of the military. It’s a change of pace for us, too,” Travenio said.

But despite succeeding in improving the image of the military in the community and earning the approval of his commanding officers, Travenio said he still spends his own money for his magic shows.

Not that he minds. “I buy my paraphernalia from a magic shop,” he said.

He also considers performing magic tricks as a rehearsal for life after a military career, said Travenio.

“I’ve been doing administrative work for several years now,” he said. “(But) if I were to leave the military early or retire, I would consider doing magic shows as a business.”

Bid to kidnap doctor foiled, say police

From the Gulf Today (Oct 18): Bid to kidnap doctor foiled, say police

An attempt by heavily-armed men to kidnap a well-known physician, also the brother of the vice mayor of Zamboanga City in restive Mindanao, has been foiled, police reported on Saturday.

Inspector Nonito Asdai, the police spokesman, identified the would-be victim as Dr Armando Ituralde, 64, the elder brother of Zamboanga City Vice Mayor Cesar Ituralde.

Asdai reported that one of the suspected kidnappers, identified as Kaisar Maing Atari, 25, was arrested in a follow-up operation following Ituralde’s complaint to the police.

Based on initial investigation, one of the suspects managed to enter Ituralde’s clinic located in a village in the city by posing as a patient on Thursday night, according to Asdai.

Once inside, Asdai said the suspect drew out a gun and tried to kidnap Ituralde who, however, resisted and escaped through a trapdoor installed inside his clinic and ran towards his house where he called his brother and the police.

Witnesses told police they saw at least 15 armed men aboard motorised multi-cabs outside the clinic but immediately fled when the kidnap attempt failed. Asdai said they have yet to establish the motive and the criminal gang involved including the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf extremists recently declared by a Mindanao regional court as a “terror group” based on the country’s anti-terrorism law.

The Abu Sayyaf was also believed responsible for the abduction of three foreigners — two Canadians and a Norwegan — as well as a Filipina from a posh resort in Davao del Sur province on Sept.21.

China uses lighthouses in Spratlys to bolster recognition of claims - expert

From InterAksyon (Oct 18): China uses lighthouses in Spratlys to bolster recognition of claims - expert

The Huayang Lighthouse is pictured during an inauguration ceremony in the South China Sea, in this picture released by China's official Xinhua News Agency dated October 9, 2015.

The next time the United States sends warships by China’s man-made islands in the disputed South China, officers aboard will have to decide how, if at all, they will engage with a pair of giant lighthouses that Beijing lit up there this month.

Chinese officials say the lighthouses on Cuarteron Reef and Johnson South Reef in the disputed Spratly islands will help maritime search and rescue, navigational security and disaster relief.

Experts, diplomats and foreign naval officers say, however, the lighthouses represent a shrewd move to help buttress China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

While the US and other navies mostly rely on electronic instruments to confirm their ships' positions, visual fixes from lighthouses are still used in certain conditions.

Any such moves would play into a strategy "geared to bolstering China's claims by forcing other countries to effectively recognize Chinese sovereignty by their actions," said Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore's Institute of South East Asian Studies.

"If naval and other ships from other countries, including the U.S. would be obliged to use and log them, it could be taken as de facto recognition of China's sovereignty," Storey said.

U.S. officials have not confirmed or denied reports that the U.S. Navy will soon conduct freedom-of-navigation operations within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands. Asked about those reports on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the United States would sail or fly wherever international law allows.

China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea, which links the Indian and Pacific Oceans. About $5 trillion in shipborne trade passes through its strategic sea lanes every year.

Effective occupation

References to the lighthouses are likely to find their way into international shipping charts and registers and the logbooks of foreign navies. That would help China to potentially build a long-term legal picture of effective occupation, despite any formal diplomatic objections of rival claimants.

The lighthouses reinforce Beijing's continued strategy of gradually "changing the facts on the water", Storey said.

China has extensively reclaimed seven islets and atolls in the Spratlys over the last two years. The runways and other facilities China is building on them have alarmed the United States and its partners in the region, who say they could be used for military purposes.

Washington has repeatedly stated it does not recognise any Chinese claim of territorial waters around the reclamations built on previously submerged reefs.

Both serving and retired Western naval officers say modern electronic navigation devices, including the U.S.-created Global Positioning System, mean that lighthouses are of declining value to all kinds of shipping.

But, when sailing within several miles of ocean features such as reefs, or when electronic devices fail, ships rely on them to help fix and log a position visually.

'No impact'

Commander Bill Clinton, a spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet, did not detail the circumstances under which U.S. ships would use the lighthouses. But, he said, they had "no impact on 7th Fleet's ability to fly, sail and operate in international waters of the South China Sea."

Trevor Hollingsbee, a retired naval intelligence analyst with Britain's defense ministry, said building lighthouses on the reclaimed reefs was a "rather cunning" move by China.

"The use of lighthouses is declining everywhere, but there will always be times when their use is unavoidable, and that goes for all mariners in the South China Sea," Hollingsbee said.

The 2014 "Sailing Directions" for the South China Sea produced by the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency gives extensive details on the Spratlys, including lighthouses, visible wrecks and lagoon entrances - but without citing who has sovereignty over them.

It declares some 52,000 square miles (135,000 sq km) as "Dangerous Ground" due to inadequate surveys and bad weather. It also noting that sovereignty in the area is "subject to competing claims which may be supported by a force of arms."

Asean defense ministers

China on Saturday sought to defuse tensions with Southeast Asian nations who have competing claims in the South China Sea.

"We will never recklessly resort to the use of force, even on issues of sovereignty, and have done our utmost to avoid unexpected conflicts," said Fan Changlong, one of the vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission which controls the Chinese armed forces and is headed by President Xi Jinpin. He was speaking to defense ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations at a security forum in Beijing.

China's artificial islands "will not affect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea", Fan said.

The new lighthouses "have already begun to provide navigation services to all nations", he added.

Four ASEAN member nations - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei - have overlapping claims in the Spratlys. Taiwan also claims the Spratlys.

Gary Roughead, former US  chief of naval operations, told the forum the scale of the ports and airfields China is building in parts of the Spratlys raises legitimate concerns.

"I do not see an influx of tourists clamoring to visit these remote outposts," he said.

Beijing tries to soothe South China Sea jitters

Agence France-Presse article posted to ABS-CBN (Oct 17): Beijing tries to soothe South China Sea jitters

Beijing sought to soothe tensions over its South China Sea claims Saturday, saying it will avoid the use of force in the region as the US ponders sending warships close to territory claimed by the Asian giant.

Speaking at the Xiangshan regional defence forum in Beijing, Fan Changlong, vice-chair of China's Central Military Commission, pledged that the country would "never recklessly resort to the use of force, even on issues bearing on sovereignty".

"We have done our utmost to avoid unexpected conflicts," he added.

The US says that China's transformation of South China Sea reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military facilities presents a threat to freedom of navigation, and defence officials have hinted they may soon use naval forces to test Chinese claims.

But Fan said that the projects were mainly intended for civilian use and "will not affect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea".

"Instead, they will enable us to provide better public services to aid navigation and production in the South China Sea."

The argument is one Beijing has made many times before, but satellite images of the islands published by the US think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies have shown as many as three runways on the islands that could accommodate fighter jets, raising concerns about China's true intentions.

Speaking in Washington this week, Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said the US would continue to sail wherever international law allowed.

While no American officials spoke at the event, the country's retired Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead used his time on a morning panel to take China to task for its behaviour.

"The rapid expansion of land features in the vital sea lanes of the South China Sea heightens suspicion and presents the potential for miscalculation," he said.

The construction, he added, "raises legitimate questions regarding militarisation".

"I do not see an influx of tourists clamouring to visit these remote islands," he said.

- 'Unintentional incidents' -

The dispute between the two goliaths, the region's largest military and economic powers, has unnerved members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), who are caught in the middle of the standoff.

Speaking to reporters after Fan's remarks, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that the US has briefed him on its plans, but "counterreaction by major powers in the region sometimes is beyond the control of small nations".

"My concern is unintended, accidental, unintentional incidents in the high sea, especially between two major powers," he said.

Hussein was one of several cabinet-level participants attending the event from the 10-member ASEAN bloc, which includes Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, all of which have rival South China Sea claims.

Taiwan, a non-ASEAN member, is also a claimant.

Fan's "statement was reassuring to us all", Hussein said in remarks during a morning session, but cautioned that the best way to address concerns was the establishment of a code of conduct for claimants in the region.

ASEAN has for years called on China to negotiate such an agreement, which would put into place a binding set of rules aimed at preventing actions that lead to conflict.

The Xiangshan forum is a security dialogue China has recently pushed as part of a broader effort to increase its global influence.

Vietnam's Defence Minister will address maritime security issues during a panel Sunday. An official from the Philippines will also appear during the conference.

Hanoi has repeatedly accused China of ramming its fishing boats as they ply local waters, while Manila has infuriated Beijing by taking their dispute to a United Nations tribunal.

Malaysia blasts China's expansion in disputed sea

Reuters report posted to ABS-CBN (Oct 18): Malaysia blasts China's expansion in disputed sea

China's construction work on islands in the disputed South China Sea is "unwarranted provocation", Malaysia's armed forces chief said on Sunday (October 18), a country which has its own claims in the seas but which generally says little in public about the spat.

China's relations with several Southeast Asian countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam who have competing claims in the South China Sea, have been strained over Beijing's increasingly assertive tone in an area through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes annually.

Beijing's move last year to step up the creation of artificial islands, which it says are mostly for civilian purposes, has also drawn strong criticism from Washington.

"I would like to address the issue of the unwarranted provocation by the Chinese over the construction on the islands, on the garrisoned islands of the South China Sea," Malaysia Armed Forces chief Zulkefli Mohd Zin told a security forum in Beijing.

China has offered assurances that their building work is also for civilian purposes, maritime research and to facilitate safe navigation of ships in that area, he added.

"So time will tell us as to what China's intention is. Only time will tell. In the meantime we have got to accept the reasons that have been given by the government of the People's Republic of China," Zulkefli said.

Malaysia has generally adopted a cautious line in its dealings with Beijing over disputed territory in the South China Sea, in contrast to Vietnam and the Philippines, which have railed against perceived Chinese expansionism.

But two Chinese naval exercises in quick succession around the James Shoal, which lies inside Malaysia's exclusive economic zone, prompted Kuala Lumpur to change its approach last year, senior diplomats have previously told Reuters.

Earlier this month China said it had completed lighthouses on Cuarteron Reef and Johnson South Reef in the Spratly islands which will help maritime search and rescue, navigational security and disaster relief.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, speaking to the same military forum late on Saturday (October 17), said these lighthouses would greatly help safety in the South China Sea.

China will continue to build such facilities, he added, without elaborating.

China's military good for world peace, top general claims

Kyodo article posted to ABS-CBN (Oct 18): China's military good for world peace, top general claims

A top Chinese general said Saturday that the country's growing military power will allow it to assume more international obligations and be beneficial for world peace, amid rising tensions in the South China Sea.

"The growth of the Chinese military contributes to the expansion of the world's force of peace," Fan Changlong, a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, told a security forum in Beijing, whose participants included Southeast Asian defense ministers.

The top officer of the commission that controls the People's Liberation Army headed by Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that the armed forces' acceleration of its modernization drive and reforms is in line with a larger role played by them in global peacekeeping operations.

"China will neither adopt a warlike policy nor bully the weak. History has proved and will continue to prove that," Fan said.

His remarks came as tensions over China's building of islands in the disputed waters once again heightened in recent weeks, especially with the United States.

In response to China's continued assertiveness in the South China Sea, one of the busiest and most vital shipping lanes in the world, the United States is reportedly weighing sending military ships and aircraft within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands that Beijing has created in the Spratly Islands despite opposition from other claimants, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

Fan touched on China's oft-repeated stance on the rapid island construction and tried to dismiss concerns that it could undermine freedom of navigation.

"Those construction projects are mainly carried out for civil purposes" Fan said. "They will enable us to provide better public services to aid navigation and production in the South China Sea."

He also told the Xiangshan Forum that China will "never recklessly resort to the use of force, even on issues bearing upon sovereignty, and have done our utmost to avoid unexpected conflicts."

"We will continue to resolve disputes and differences with directly related parties through friendly consultation," he said.

China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, as well as a group of small Japan-controlled islands in the East China Sea.

China has insisted that the United States, Japan and other countries that have no claims in the South China Sea not interfere in its territorial disputes.

The three-day security forum through Sunday, attended by government officials and scholars, is being organized by the China Association for Military Science and the China Institute for International Strategic Studies.

The forum became an annual event from last year, with some analysts saying that China is using it to try to ease regional fears over its growing military clout.

China is also hoping to make the forum a counterbalance to Asia's foremost influential security meeting, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, held every year in Singapore, where Beijing's opaque military expansion often comes under criticism.

Palace: ASEAN's collective decision needed in proposed naval drills

From ABS-CBN (Oct 18): Palace: ASEAN's collective decision needed in proposed naval drills
Malacanang said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must discuss first China's proposal of holding naval drills with member-countries in the South China Sea.

"The Philippine position will be discussed in ASEAN. Hintayin na lang po natin 'yung magiging discussion na ito," Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said when asked to comment on China's proposal.

The Chinese defense minister on Friday said he was willing to hold joint drills in the disputed South China Sea with Southeast Asian countries to prevent accidental encounters, as well as for the effective conduct of search and rescue operations.

China's relations with several Southeast Asian countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam, have soured in recent years because of the Asian giant's assertive posture in the region.

China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, which is a major sea lane for trade.

Valte also reiterated the multifaceted relations between China and the Philippines, despite their differences in the South China Sea issue.

"We have always maintained that our relationship with China is multifaceted—meaning, maraming level, maraming pinag-uusapan," Valte said when asked about the meeting of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin with his Chinese and ASEAN counterparts, and the improving relations between the two countries.

"Our lines of communication have always been open when it comes to discussing the other facets of our relationship."

Media reports say the United States has decided to conduct freedom-of-navigation operations inside 12 nautical-mile limits that China claims around islands built on reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

Valte said it is up to the US to carry out such military activities.

The Philippines has no right to dictate on what another country wishes to do on a particular situation, she added.

Valte emphasized, however, that freedom of navigation and regional stability must be maintained in the area due to its role in international trade.

"It is important that parties are free to pass through without any intimidation or harassment, and everyone follows international law," she said.

Army conducts pre-entry examinations in Eastern Visayas

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 17): Army conducts pre-entry examinations in Eastern Visayas

The Army Recruitment Office for Visayas based in Cebu City will conduct a series of pre-entry written examinations for applicants as army officers and soldiers from Eastern Visayas that will start on Nov. 8, 2015.

Examinations will be facilitated by the personnel from the Army Recruitment Office on the following dates and venues as indicated: Nov. 8 to 9 at an army camp in Catarman, Northern Samar; Nov. 10 to 12 at the army division headquarters in Catbalogan City, Samar; and Nov. 14 to 15 at the Leyte Normal University, Tacloban City.

Qualifications for Officer Candidate Course (OCC) are the following: college graduate; natural born Filipino; 21 to 29 years of age upon admission; single and never been married; never borne or sired a child; height of not less than 152 centimeters (cm) for both male and female but not more than 193.04 cm; good moral character; physically, mentally, and psychologically fit for active military service;

The Officers Preparatory Course (OPC) is looking for college graduates; inactive commissioned reserve officer; must not be over 31 years old on the date of called to active duty; physically, mentally, and psychologically fit for active military service; height of not less than 152 cm for both male and female but not more than 193.04 cm; and good moral character.

Qualifications for Candidate Soldier Course (CSC) are the following: natural born Filipino citizen; at least 18 to 23 years old; at least High School Graduate, but possessing technical/vocational skills needed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines; single and never been married; never borne or sired a child; at least 60 inches in height; good moral character; and physically, mentally, and psychologically fit for military training.

Examinees must bring along the following original documents during the examination: certificate of live birth issued by the Philippine Statistics Authority; transcript of records or college diploma; valid identification; pen and pencil.

Examinees should wear white shirt, pants, and rubber shoes.

For further clarifications and inquiries, please feel free to contactTSg Noel D Cabides at the Office of the Procurement Section, Army Personnel Management Center, Philippine Army through mobile number 09274433906.

JET A1 fuel now stockpiled in Baguio City --AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 18): JET A1 fuel now stockpiled in Baguio City --AFP

Supplies of JET A1 fuel are already stockpiled at Tactical Operations Group-1 in Baguio City for use of military aircraft which may be deployed for possible humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in the aftermath of typhoon "Lando."

This was announced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) 7th Civil Relations Group in a message to the Philippines News Agency on Sunday.

JET A1 fuel is used by helicopters and planes of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

"Lando" is continuing to pound provinces in Northern and Central Luzon as of this posting.

The PAF earlier announced that it has alerted 46 aircraft for possible relief and rescue missions.

Col. Enrico Canaya, PAF spokesperson, said this can be broken down into 14 rescue helicopters, 27 combat utility helicopters and five airlift aircraft.

These include the 505th Search-and-Rescue Group and all PAF disaster response teams.

"PAF maintains a total of 14 rescue helicopters, 27 utility helicopters and five airlift aircraft deployed all over the country that may be utilized for humanitarian and disaster response operations when needed," Canaya said.

Malacanang thanks foreign ambassadors for monitoring BBL

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 18): Malacanang thanks foreign ambassadors for monitoring BBL

Malacanang thanked on Sunday the foreign ambassadors and heads of missions in the Philippines for keeping their eyes on the Mindanao peace process, particularly the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

”We thank our friends from the diplomatic corps who are affirming their solidarity with our country in building the foundations for enduring peace, while we continue to work with Congress for the timely enactment of the BBL,” Presidential Commissions Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a Radyo ng Bayan interview.

According to reports, at least 15 ambassadors and heads of missions have called on the Philippine government to stay engaged in the Mindanao peace process despite delay in the passage of the BBL.

”This show of solidarity is important for our peace process and, anyway, the determination of the government to achieve peace process through BBL remains firm,” Coloma said.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are still holding plenary debates on the proposed BBL with the Congress leaders hoping for its passage before the year ends.

Last week, Senate President Franklin Drilon urged his colleagues to finish all the priority measures, including the BBL, before focusing on the 2016 national and local elections.

In the Senate, vice presidential candidate Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. is the sponsor of the BBL’s substitute bill which he called Basic Law on the Bangamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).

Marcos promised to resume the plenary debates on the BLBAR when Congress resumes regular sessions on Nov. 3.

PA says CAFGU budget increase for 2016 due to higher subsistence allowance

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 18): PA says CAFGU budget increase for 2016 due to higher subsistence allowance

The Philippine Army (PA) clarified on Sunday that the reported increase in the 2016 budget of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) is due to the raising of the latter's subsistence allowance.

This is contrary to claims that the budget increase is aimed at the recruitment of additional CAFGUs, PA spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao said.

The subsistence allowance of military personnel has been increased from PhP90 to PhP150 per day. The increase took effect in mid-2014 but was fully implemented this year.

Just like the regular soldiers, CAFGU members also now receive PhP150 subsistence allowance daily or a total of PhP4,500 or Php4,650 per month.

This is the main reason for the increase of the CAFGU budget in 2016 which amounted to PhP3.4 billion, Hao said.

Since this is the only monetary entitlement the CAFGUs receive, their deployment and utilization are done in a manner that their livelihood activities are not impaired.

In order to ensure the CAFGUs’ welfare, Hao said the PA facilitates special benefits for them, including individual clothing and individual equipment (ICIE), scholarship for dependents, maintenance of CAFGU bases, PhilHealth and insurance benefits.

He added the PA is also putting on hold the recruitment of CAFGU members this year in compliance with the provisions of the General Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015.

Section 3 of the General Provisions of GAA 2015 provides that: xxxx "No new CAFGUs shall be recruited for training and the corresponding costs attendant to the training of existing CAFGUs shall be gradually scaled down in anticipation of its planned demobilization as a result of the implementation of the Revised AFP Modernization Program."

As of August this year, there were 53,004 CAFGU members deployed to the 14 battalions of the Philippine Army which administers the CAFGU units. The CAFGU strength at the start of 2015 was around 56,000.

The average monthly loss of CAFGU members nationwide in the Army roster is 400. This is due to deaths, voluntary termination of service, and administrative cases.

2 troopers killed, 1 hurt in clash with rebels in Compostela Valley

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 18): 2 troopers killed, 1 hurt in clash with rebels in Compostela Valley

Two soldiers from the 25th Infantry Battalion were killed while another one was seriously wounded during an encounter with about 60 heavily-armed New People's Army (NPA) bandits in Sitio Kalinugan, Barangay Casoon, Monkayo, Compostela Valley province on Saturday afternoon.

Capt. Rhyan Batchar, 10th Infantry Division public affairs office chief, said the encounter stemmed from their efforts to recover two soldiers abducted by the NPAs last Sept. 30.

The rebels encountered by the troops were the combined elements of Section Committee 3 and Pulang Bagani Command 4 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee led by Zaldy Cañete, alias "Jinggoy," Batchar said.

Killed-in-action were Cpl. Byron Moreno and Pfc. Thon Katog, whose bodies were already claimed by their families.

The wounded trooper, identified only as Pfc. Castillanes, is now undergoing treatment at the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum City.

After the 25-minute firefight, the soldiers recovered an improvised explosive device, electrical wires and several personal belongings of the NPAs who scampered to different directions.

Soldiers from the 1001st Infantry Brigade are pursuing the fleeing rebels.