Saturday, January 2, 2016

Bangsamoro bill 'increasingly uncertain' – peace monitor

From Rappler (Jan 3): Bangsamoro bill 'increasingly uncertain' – peace monitor

The Third Party Monitoring Team also expresses concern about the BBL's compliance with the existing peace deal

PEACE. Advocates believe the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is the key to long-term peace in war-torn Mindanao. File photo by George P. Moya/Rappler

PEACE. Advocates believe the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is the key to long-term peace in war-torn Mindanao. File photo by George P. Moya/Rappler

An independent body monitoring the implementation of the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) decried the slow and "uncertain" passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Chairman Alistair MacDonald of the Third Party Monitoring Team expressed concern about the "delays in the legislative process" and the "increasing uncertainty" of the BBL's passage under the Aquino administration.

Last December 8, President Benigno Aquino III urged lawmakers to pass the measure that will lay the groundwork for long-term peace in Mindanao and in the country.

The House of Representatives has also finished its period of interpellation and opened the bill for second reading.

MacDonald described these developments as "encouraging," but noted that in the Senate, the BBL has not made significant progress.

"It is difficult to look forward, at a time when there are so many uncertainties as to whether a BBL will be passed, " MacDonald said in a letter sent to Philippine government peace panel chairperson Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.

Compliance with CAB

MacDonald also expressed concern about whether the measure that will be passed will be "acceptable to the MILF" and to the "broader Bangsamoro community," and if it will be compliant with the existing Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

"Many of the concerns mentioned were speculative, given the lack of clarity on what might eventually come out of Congress, or on what might be amended in plenary or in the bicameral conference. However, press reports that Congress would further amend the House Committee version to remove the opt-in provision had been given wide circulation," he wrote.

One of the major changes of the House's version is the removal of the controversial opt-in provision that will allow government units to belatedly vote to be part of the region after the plebiscite.

MacDonald thus urged the government and the MILF to intensify their efforts to promote the passage of a CAB-compliant BBL.

He also called both peace panels to "manage public expectations in the event that Congress is not able to complete its legislative work on the proposed law" and prepare a "Plan B" agreement. (READ: Marcos: Bangsamoro law won't be passed under Aquino)

Congress vows passage

The Senate and the House have repeatedly moved the deadline of the bill's passage between June and December. But both chambers pledged to work on the measure when sessions resume on January 18. (READ: Homestretch: Will FOI, Bangsamoro, anti-political dynasty bills be dead in 2016?)

In his yearend message, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr said that he remains confident that the 16th Congress will pass priority bills, including the BBL.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, for his part, assured the public that senators will not allow "election fever to paralyze" their work.

Drilon said they will resume tackling the BBL and 66 other bills pending on second reading.

Positive developments

Despite the lack of a BBL, MacDonald noted several developments in the peace process, including:

*the ongoing implementation of large-scale Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST) training;

*the work of the Joint Task Force for the Decommissioned Combatants and their Communities (TFDCC) and Task Force Camps Transformation (TFCT);

*completion of the Department of Social Welfare and Development-MILF (DSWD-MILF) profiling of the 145 former combatants;

*and the strengthening of the organizational coherence and footprint on the ground of the International Decommissioning Body (IDB)

He also lauded the "coming-together" of different stakeholders in the Bangsamoro.

"Further efforts have been made to confirm support of the BBL from other factions of the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), most notably that led by Abdulkhayr Alonto, but reaching out also to Nur Misuari," MacDonald said.

DND in the market for FA-50PHs countermeasure munitions

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3): DND in the market for FA-50PHs countermeasure munitions

To ensure the survival of the country's brand-new FA-50PH "Fighting Eagle" against enemy fire, the Department of National Defense (DND) has announced that it is allocating PhP33,702,286 for the acquisition of countermeasure munitions for light interim fighter aircraft.

The fund will be sourced from the AFP Modernization Act Trust Fund.

To be acquired are 17,280 units of "RR-170 Chaffs" and 8,640 units of "MJU-7 IR Flares with impulsive cartridges."These will be fitted to the FA-50PHs' Elbit Elisra SPS-45v5EX countermeasure dispenser system.

Pre-bid conference is scheduled for Jan. 6 at 9 a.m. at the DND Bidding and Awards Committee Conference Room, DND Building, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Winning bidders are required to deliver the items within 360 calendar days, the bid bulletin at the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System said.

Countermeasures are used to decoy hostile radar and surface missile systems tracking or pursuing jet aircraft.

Two of the country's first FA-50PH jet aircraft arrived at Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Pampanga last Nov. 28.

These two aircraft are part of the 12-plane order from the Korea Aerospace Industries which amounted to PhP18.9 billion.

AFP to acquire 93,600 rounds of 20mm ammo for FA-50PHs

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3): AFP to acquire 93,600 rounds of 20mm ammo for FA-50PHs
In line with ongoing efforts to make the country's FA-50PH "Fighting Eagle" light-interim fighter aircraft combat ready, the Department of National Defense (DND) is allocating the sum of PhP106,138,800 for the acquisition of 93,600 rounds of 20mm ammunition.

The money will be sourced from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Act Trust Fund, the bid bulletin from the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System said.

These will be used to arm the FA-50PH's modified A50 gun system.

The weapon will be utilized in close-quarter fighting and strafing missions.

Pre-bid conference is set on Jan. 6 at 11 a.m. at the DND Bidding and Awards Committee Conference Room, DND Building, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Winning bidders are required to deliver the items within 360 calendar days.

Two of the country's first FA-50PH jet aircraft arrived at Clark Air Base, Angeles City, Pampanga last Nov. 28.

The two aircraft are part of the 12-plane order from the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) which amounted to PhP18.9 billion.

The F/A-50 (the other designation for the FA-50PH) is capable of being fitted with air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-9 "Sidewinder" air-to-air and heat-seeking and radar-guided missiles.

It will act as the country's interim fighter until the Philippines gets enough experience of operating fast jet assets and money to fund the acquisition of more capable fighter aircraft.

Incidentally, the F/A-50 design is largely derived from the F-16 and they have many similarities: use of a single engine, speed, size, cost, and the range of weapons.

KAI's previous engineering experience in license-producing the KF-16 was a starting point for the development of the F/A-50.

The aircraft can carry two pilots in tandem seating. The high-mounted canopy developed by Hankuk Fiber is applied with stretched acrylic, providing the pilots with good visibility, and has been tested to offer the canopy with ballistic protection against four-pound objects impacting at 400 knots.

The altitude limit is 14,600 meters (48,000 feet), and airframe is designed to last 8,000 hours of service.

There are seven internal fuel tanks with capacity of 2,655 liters (701 US gallons), five in the fuselage and two in the wings.

An additional 1,710 liters (452 US gallons) of fuel can be carried in the three external fuel tanks.

Trainer variants have a paint scheme of white and red, and aerobatic variants white, black, and yellow.

The F/A-50 uses a single General Electric F404-102 turbofan engine license-produced by Samsung Techwin, upgraded with a full authority digital engine control system jointly developed by General Electric and Korean Aerospace Industries.

The engine consists of three-staged fans, seven axial stage arrangement, and an afterburner.

Its engine produces a maximum of 78.7 kN (17,700 lbf) of thrust with afterburner.

Editorial -- Killings dim peace hopes in Mindanao

Editorial posted to Tempo (Jan 3): Editorial -- Killings dim peace hopes in Mindanao

This is supposed to be a season of peace – from the Simbang Gabi on December 16 to the Feast of the Epiphany or the Three Kings today, January 3 – but violence flared in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, and North Cotabato in Mindanao on Christmas Eve, leaving nine civilians dead. In far-off Vatican City in Rome, Pope Francis was moved to condemn the killing which was blamed on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Ilonggo settlers in a remote village in North Cotabato announced they were arming themselves to protect their lives, properties, and livelihood from attacks by armed men identified with the BIFF. The Ilonggo settlers said they have to defend themselves because the government cannot help them. There is no military detachment or police outpost in the area, they said.

The BIFF is a breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which is itself a breakaway group from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). In the Mamasapano fighting in January, 2015, the BIFF, MILF, and other armed groups were alleged to be the enemy force that fought the Special Action Force commandos out to get a Malaysian terrorist bomber living in the area.

The MILF has an agreement with a government peace panel for the establishment of a Bangsamoro Entity to replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The BIFF, however, is not part of any peace agreement. It has been blamed for the recent kidnapping for ransom of two Canadians and a Norwegian in Davao City. And it is blamed for the recent killings which Pope Francis lamented.

The killings took place despite the ongoing suspension of MILF operations in that part of Mindanao. The hope is that if the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is finally approved by Congress and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region is finally established, the area will see the beginnings of peace.

The BBL, however, is facing great difficulty in Congress. The House of Representatives has not been able to muster a quorum to approve the bill. And the Senate has set aside the original bill in favor of another one shorn of many provisions the senators believe to be unconstitutional. Against these developments in Congress, officials of the MILF have been saying the Bangsamoro law should not depart too far from the original bill.

We have had this uncertainty for months now and the recent killings which the Pope deplored can only been seen as a bad sign of the times. The administration continues to hold on to the hope and expectation that the BBL bill will be approved soon. In the meantime, however, steps must be taken to avert a repetition of the recent killings — which could escalate in the coming weeks and months.

Conversion plan for Malampaya urged

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 2): Conversion plan for Malampaya urged

A senior member of the House Committee on Energy urged yesterday the Aquino administration to identify possible practical uses for the two massive oil rigs in the West Philippine Sea, anticipating that the Malampaya offshore natural gas field in northwest Palawan will eventually run out of supply.
LPG-MA Rep. Arnel Ty said the two Malampaya rigs, once vacated could be converted by the Philippine Navy into an outpost.
“The Malampaya gas wells are bound to dry up, be plugged and abandoned, along with the platforms,” he said, even as continuously urged the government to pour in resources in the modernization of warships to secure the West Philippine Sea’s oil and gas deposits.
He said the Philippine Marine Corps is using what is left of the World War II vintage BRP Sierra Madre as a makeshift garrison 150 kilometers off northwest Palawan. The ship is grounded atop an atoll in the Spratly Islands, he noted.
Ty said the Malampaya rigs could also be used for a marine research hub, or a high security prison.
The Malampaya rigs are two large adjacent structures with facilities to extract natural gas and oil from undersea reservoirs. The platforms are built to withstand typhoons and earthquakes and one of the rigs can house 60 workers and has a helipad, Ty cited.
“The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources could also use the rigs for a marine research hub. Even the Bureau of Corrections can opt to transform the platforms into a high security prison,” he said.
Ty said it would be better if the rigs would be eventually used as a naval station and marine study center.
“Besides its vast hydrocarbon deposits that could help assure the country’s long-term energy requirements, the West Philippine Sea is also home to 20 percent of the country’s fisheries catch, and serves as a breeding ground for high-value aquatic resources that have to be protected to sustain the local commercial fishing industry,” he said.
Located 80 kilometers off northwest Palawan, the Malampaya gas field was discovered in 1991 and began commercial production in 2002. The field’s gas is conveyed via a 504-kilometer, 24-inch pipeline to Batangas City, where the fuel drives three power plants with a combined 2,700 megawatts in full generating capacity.

Navy ship deployed to escort volunteers in ‘Freedom Voyage’

From the Philippine Star (Jan 3): Navy ship deployed to escort volunteers in ‘Freedom Voyage’

A Navy ship was deployed to escort the student volunteer group “Kalayaan Atin Ito” from Pag-asa Island to Palawan.

Led by former Marine captain Nicanor Faeldon, the 46 student volunteers were initially offered by the military a Navy boat to take them to Puerto Princesa City.

The group, however, declined and left the island town before noon Friday on a small single-engine motor launch that took them to Pag-asa Island last Dec. 26.

“We offered them our Navy ship to bring them back to Puerto Princesa City but they declined as they all opted to sail on their rented small boat,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said.

Padilla said the Philippine Navy ship that was sent to pick up the group was ordered to just escort the boat to ensure their safety.

The group earlier pitched camp on Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys in a symbolic stand against China’s claim to most of the region.

They went against government warnings not to proceed to the islands because of the rough seas and inclement weather, aside from the security situation in the region.

Members of the group had previously accused the government of not doing enough to stand up to China.

China demanded their immediate pull out from Pag-asa Island, including the civilian islanders and the soldiers stationed in the area, pointing out that the place is an integral part of its maritime domain.

Taiwan, one of the six claimants in the region, also declared its opposition to the “Freedom Voyage” made by the group to Pag-asa.

Taiwan said the activity is illegal that impairs peace and stability in the region as it infringed on its sovereignty. It also vowed it will take all necessary measures to protect its legitimate and lawful rights in the South China Sea.

However, the AFP maintained the presence of the student volunteers in Pag-asa is legitimate since the island is part of Philippine territory.

Vietnam says China landed plane on Kagitingan Reef

Posted to ABS-CBN (Jan 3): Vietnam says China landed plane on Kagitingan Reef

Fiery Cross Reef or Kagitingan Reef. Photo by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

HANOI - Vietnam formally accused China of violating its sovereignty and a recent confidence-building pact on Saturday by landing a plane on an airstrip Beijing has built in a contested part of the South China Sea.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said China had conducted a test-flight to the airfield, "built illegally on Fiery Cross Reef, which is part of Vietnam's Spratlys".

In a statement, he called it "a serious infringement of the sovereignty of Vietnam on the Spratly archipelago, contrary to the common perception of high-ranking leaders of the two countries and (to) an agreement on the basic principles for directly solving maritime issues between Vietnam and China".

Vietnam handed a protest note to China's embassy and asked China not to repeat the action, Binh said.

The two communist-led states' competing claims in the South China Sea came to a head in 2014 when Beijing parked an oil rig off the Vietnamese coast, leading to anti-China riots.

Late last year, China completed an airfield on Fiery Cross Reef that security experts say could accommodate most Chinese military aircraft.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hanoi in November, at a time of uncertainty over what kind of leader will emerge from this month's five-yearly congress of the Vietnamese communist party, traditionally close to Beijing but now getting intense Western attention, from the United States in particular.

Both sides agreed during Xi's visit to maintain peace in the sea and build a relationship of trust.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, which is believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, and through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year, and has been building up military facilities on the islands it controls.

As well as Vietnam and China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan also have claims.

YEARENDER: David vs Goliath at The Hague

From the Philippine Star (Jan 3): YEARENDER: David vs Goliath at The Hague

Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Vic Ledda are seen during the first round of the oral arguments on the arbitra- tion case filed by the Philippines against China at The Hague in July 2015.
Two years after turning to international arbitration against China’s expansionist moves in the West Philippine Sea, Manila finally got to see its case proceeding when the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal started hearing last July China’s objections to UN jurisdiction.
The Philippines is the first country to question China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told the UN Arbitral Tribunal that through a “salami-slicing” and “cabbage” strategy, China is brazenly eating into Philippine territory to consolidate its hold over disputed waters in violation of international laws.
“Outside observers have referred to this as China’s ‘salami-slicing’ strategy: that is, taking little steps over time, none of which individually is enough to provoke a crisis,” Del Rosario said.
“When these small steps are taken together, however, they reflect China’s efforts to slowly consolidate de facto control throughout the South China Sea,” Del Rosario told the tribunal.
In a legal setback for China, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) based in The Hague ruled on Oct. 29 that it has jurisdiction to hear the case filed by the Philippines.
In filing the case against Beijing, Manila also wants to reaffirm its right to exploit waters within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The PCA said Manila’s case was “properly constituted” under the UNCLOS and that China’s “non-appearance” or refusal to participate in the arbitration proceedings did not preclude the court’s jurisdiction over the case.
With the jurisdictional issue resolved, hearings on the merits of the case proceeded.
China has stubbornly refused to take part in the proceedings, insisting its has unquestionable sovereignty over the South China Sea based on its nine-dash line claim.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the South China Sea.

Artificial islands

Apparently in a bid to strengthen its position on the issue, Beijing has been building artificial islands – complete with military facilities – over coral reefs and shoals in areas within the EEZ of the Philippines.
China’s island-building activities were brought up during oral arguments in The Hague. Del Rosario and Solicitor General Florin Hilbay led the Philippine panel in the UN court.
The Philippines concluded its legal arguments against China before the arbitral tribunal with a declaration that it is entrusting its fate to a court that it believes will uphold the rule of law and not the “quaint aspiration of a time now past.”
In a speech before the tribunal, Del Rosario said whatever is decided by the tribunal would have an impact on the fate of the Philippines, the region and the UNCLOS.
Del Rosario urged the UN arbitral tribunal not to give China the “golden key” that would allow Beijing to convert its nine-dash line in the South China Sea into a “Berlin Wall of the Sea” and a “giant fence” owned by Beijing.
“We confidently entrust our fate, the fate of the region and, indeed, the fate of the Convention to you,” del Rosario said, as he expressed confidence the court’s “capable hands” would steer the issue to “a truly just solution.”

APEC hosting

The country’s international image also got some burnishing from its successful hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in November.
Success came even if the nearly P10-billion budget for the event may not have been completely used, according to Marciano Paynor Jr., chairman of the APEC 2015 National Organizing Committee.
The Department of Budget and Management said only P7.913 billion was spent over the year for the summit and other APEC meetings held throughout the year.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indonesian President Joko Widodo skipped the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting (AELM) in Manila on Nov. 18-19 due to domestic concerns.
In a meeting between Del Rosario and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Nov. 10 at the DFA, Manila agreed not to include the South China Sea issue on the agenda, stressing that APEC was an economic gathering.
Wang said he would like to make sure the attendance of President Xi Jinping in the summit would be smooth, safe and successful.
While assuring the Chinese officials of trouble-free attendance, Philippine officials admitted the maritime dispute might be discussed among officials on bilateral basis.
“Under the shadow cast by the terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and against Russian aircraft over the Sinai, and elsewhere, we strongly condemn all acts, methods and practices of terrorism in all their forms and manifestations,” the leaders said in a nine-page 2015 APEC Economic Leaders’ Declaration.
The leaders cited “the urgent need for increased international cooperation and solidarity in the fight against terrorism” as they concluded the annual meeting.
“We will not allow terrorism to threaten the fundamental values that underpin our free and open economies,” the leaders said. “Economic growth, prosperity and opportunity are among the most powerful tools to address the root causes of terrorism and radicalization.”
The APEC leaders’ last major statement on terrorism was in Shanghai in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. 
The Philippines, a founding member of APEC, previously hosted the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting nearly two decades ago – in 1996 in Subic Bay.


The DFA last year also had to deal with controversy sparked by the US insistence on the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines.
In November, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said EDCA – held up for more than a year since it was signed with the Philippines – would be for the mutual interest of the US and the Philippines.
Washington is hopeful the Supreme Court would hand down a favorable decision on the defense agreement, he said.
The Philippines, he said, is set to receive a “high amount” of foreign military funding in 2016 after receiving $79 million in bilateral assistance from the US last year.
US President Barack Obama earlier promised that a big part of the $140 million in foreign military funding in the region in 2016 would go to the Philippines.
“We have upped our foreign military funding for the Philippines. It will be somewhere in the range of $79 million this year. It was originally targeted at $50 million. It’s increasing and what has been proposed is something called maritime security initiative in the region,” Goldberg said.
“Our ability to help the Philippines (is also tied to EDCA),” the ambassador said when asked if the US support to the Philippines would be affected should SC rule against it.
The homicide conviction of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton for the killing of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in October last year also put to test the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the US.
An Olongapo court ruled on Dec. 1 that Pemberton was guilty of homicide and not murder for Laude’s death.
Pemberton was sentenced to six to 12 years imprisonment. Regional Trial Court Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde also ordered Pemberton to pay P50,000 as civil indemnity and P4.32 million to Laude’s family as damages for loss of earning capacity.
The court noted that under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the US and the Philippines, the confinement or detention of US personnel shall be carried out in facilities mutually agreed upon by authorities from both countries.

EU’s commitment

Despite delays in the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the European Union (EU) vowed to continue supporting Mindanao peace and development efforts, initially with 5.5 million euros or P275 million.
“The European Union is impressed by the fact that the government’s and the MILF’s commitment to the peace process despite the delay of the adoption of the Bangsamoro Basic Law has not changed,” European Union Ambassador Franz Jessen said.
“And inspired with this firm resolve to peace, the EU’s eagerness and readiness to support the calls for a negotiated political settlement in Mindanao remains,” he said.
The EU said its programs in Mindanao can be implemented with or without the BBL, noting that the commitment goes beyond the passage of the BBL.
Also last year, the DFA worked double time to address threats of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) on Filipino workers.
In April, the DFA confirmed a Filipino had died in the United Arab Emirates due to MERS-CoV while five other Filipinos had been placed under quarantine.
The DFA also confirmed in March that three Filipino female healthcare personnel in Saudi Arabia had contracted MERS-CoV.
Also last year in Cebu, a crime incident took on diplomatic color as it involved a Chinese consular official and other diplomats.
The Chinese consular officer and her husband involved in the fatal shooting of two Chinese diplomats and the wounding of the consul general in Cebu City were flown to China on the night of Oct. 23 even before local police could complete their investigation.
Police turned over the custody of Li Qingliang and his wife, Guo Jing, who worked in the consulate’s visa section, to Chinese authorities.
The couple is accused of killing diplomats Sun Shan and Hui Li and wounding Consul-General Song Ronghua, who survived a bullet wound in the neck, at the Lighthouse Restaurant in Cebu.
The couple invoked diplomatic immunity after the shooting.
The DFA clarified that immunity enjoyed by Philippine and Chinese diplomats in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was expanded with the signing of the 2009 Consular Agreement between Manila and Beijing.

Noy hosts dinner for top defense, AFP execs

From the Philippine Star (Jan 3): Noy hosts dinner for top defense, AFP execs

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines -- President Aquino capped his second night here by hosting dinner for top defense and military officials at The Mansion House on Friday.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin led the guests, together with major service commanders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The function at the official presidential residence here lasted late into night, according to police chief Sr. Supt. Rolando Miranda.

Miranda had ordered policemen deployed around The Mansion House as peripheral security.

Sources said Gazmin motored back to Metro Manila yesterday morning.

Outside the gates of The Mansion House, tourists gathered hoping to get a glimpse of Aquino, causing heavy vehicular traffic in the area.

The President is expected to be here until Tuesday.

15 AFP modernization projects completed last year

From the Philippine Star (Jan 3): 15 AFP modernization projects completed last year

A total of 15 armed forces upgrade projects, including air assets and communication equipment, were completed last year, military data obtained by The STAR showed.

The projects have a total cost of more than P18 billion and are expected to improve the military’s security and disaster response capabilities.

Six of the projects will go to the Army while four will benefit the Navy. Three projects will boost the capabilities of the Air Force while two will go to the General Headquarters and Armed Forces of the Philippines Wide Support and Separate Units.

Big ticket items completed this year include the three units of C-295 medium lift aircraft, the eight units of 412EP combat utility helicopters and eight attack helicopters for the Air Force, 50,629 assault rifles for the Army and Marines, and two units of naval helicopters.

Security officials previously said that the three C-295 planes cost P5.29 billion while the eight 412EP helicopters were acquired for P4.65 billion.

The eight attack helicopters cost P3.44-billion while the assault rifles and the two naval helicopters were worth P1.94 billion and P847.5 billion, respectively.

Other projects completed in 2015 were 720 units of 40 mm grenade launchers (P45 million), 330 units of personal role radios (P86 million) and eight units of 40mm automatic grenade launchers (P19.75 million) for the Navy; 473 units of 20W Man Pack Radios (P652.8 million), 1,376 units of 5W handheld radio and 210 units of high frequency 50 W radios (combined amount of P863.7 million), 62 units of 100W base radio amplifier and accessories (P80.4 million) and 114 units of M113A2 armored personnel carrier (P67.5 million) for the Army; and communication equipment (P10.87 million) and enhanced data generation system (P19.97 million) for the General Headquarters and Armed Forces of the Philippines Wide Support and Separate Units.

The Aquino administration has so far completed 65 military upgrade projects worth P30.96 billion, surpassing the 45 projects implemented under the previous regime.

Of the 65 completed projects, 24 went to the Army while 22 benefitted the Air Force. The Navy and the General Headquarters and Armed Forces of the Philippines Wide Support and Separate Units each got eight projects, while the Government Arsenal benefitted from three projects.

Ifugao PPOC moves to protect CLIP beneficiaries, workers

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 1): Ifugao PPOC moves to protect CLIP beneficiaries, workers

The Provincial Peace and Order Council recently passed a resolution  to ensure the protection of beneficiaries and workers of the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).

PPOC Resolution No. 2015-03 requests the Philippine National Police - Cordillera Regional Office(PRO-COR) not to release  information that would compromise the welfare and safety of  CLIP clients, partners and workers.

This stemmed from a post in the social media which disclosed information such as name and age of the former rebels and the person who accompanied the FR to surrender.

The resolution stated that the posting in social media of the identity of FRs is a violation of security protocol as embodied in Section 10. B of the Implementing Guidelines of the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) for former New People’s Army (NPA) members.

 “The release of names of the former rebels is detrimental and has a negative effect on them, their families and the person who accompanied them to surrender and the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO) personnel handling the program,” the PPOC resolution stated.

 It further mentioned that PPOC deems it important that names of the former rebels should be withheld from the press and social media in order to maintain social relationship, trust and confidence in the government, public services and the community.

 The PNP and the Provincial Government will handle CLIP information with confidentiality and follow information dissemination protocol in order to protect the safety of all people concerned.

Soldier gunned down in Maguindanao town

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 2): Soldier gunned down in Maguindanao town

Unidentified men shot dead an Army soldier near a military detachment in Datu Salibo town in Maguindanao Saturday morning, authorities said.

Datu Salibo Mayor Norodin Salasal identified the victim as Private First Class Samsudin Mokammad of the 57th Infantry Battalion and a resident of Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

Initial police reports said one of two motorcycle-riding men shot Mokammad at close range with an automatic rifle, whose caliber has not been ascertained yet.

Investigators said Mokammad had just emerged from a local store in Barangay (village) Crossing Pagatin – which is about 300 meters away from a military detachment – when attacked around 8 a.m.

Mokammad instantly died from at least 10 gunshot wounds in different parts of his body, the police said.

Esmie Simpal-Olong, a relative of the victim, said they believed his work as a soldier was the main reason for the attack on Mokammad.

Sulu town attacked by armed men

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 2): Sulu town attacked by armed men

A group of armed men has stormed the Sulu town of Pata Island past 5 p.m. Saturday but no casualties had been reported so far.

Sulu Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan said more policemen had already been sent to the area and firefight had been reported.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Army’s 501st Infantry Brigade based in Sulu, confirmed the incident.

Army troops repel attack by NPA guerrillas

From the Business Mirror (Jan 3): Army troops repel attack by NPA guerrillas

THE military said on Saturday that it repelled an attack by New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas on its troops in Camarines Sur, adding it was the second recorded violation by the rebels of the existing Christmas cease-fire.
The attack was reported by the Armed Force as it prepared to resume its normal military operations against the rebels upon the expiration of the cease-fire at 12 midnight on Sunday. The Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command reported that at around 4 p.m. on New Year’s Day the rebels attacked an Army team in Barangay Scout Fuentebella, Goa, Camarines Sur.
The attack happened while government forces were observing the unilateral suspension of offensive military operations (Somo) nationwide declared by the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines’s unilateral declaration of cease-fire, which both started on December 23 at 12:01 a.m. and will expire at 12 midnight on January 3.
Lt. Col. Zacarias Batalla, 83rd Infantry Battalion commander, eight soldiers and six Citizens Armed Forces Geographic Unit Active Auxilliaries were fired upon by some 10 rebels, triggering a 20-minute firefight. “No one is hurt among our troops, however, on the side of the rebels, bloodstains were seen scattered on their position,” Batalla said.
He also said that an M-14 rifle and an AK-50 rifle along with 12 backpacks with two hand grenades, bandoleers with 18 assorted magazines and ammunition were recovered at the encounter site.
“It‘s a New Year’s visit to assure the barangay folk of our presence, that we are not remiss in our duty to provide them security when the attack happened leaving the soldiers no choice but to fire back,” Col. Claudio Yucot, commander of the 901st Infantry Brigade, said.
Yucot said the attack “seemed deliberate” as landmines were reportedly discovered laid along the soldiers’ path going to the barangay, about two kilometers from their patrol base.
Yucot said he did not order pursuit operations in strict observance of President Aquino’s declaration of Somo.
On December 23, the start of the truce, the rebels also reportedly fired at soldiers in Surigao del Sur.
Col. Isidro Purisima, commander of the 402nd Infantry Brigade, said the rebels under Brando Juagpao alias Commander Rodel harassed members of the Second Special Forces Battalion at the outskirt of barangay Bitaugan, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur.
Purisima said troops were stationed in the said area to assist officials of the local government of San Miguel in facilitating the delivery of development programs and services in the community.
An senior officer at the Armed Forces General Headquarters in Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City said the rebel attacks prove that the CPP no longer controls the NPA guerrillas in the countryside.
The official added: “If this is the case, the government should terminate peace negotiations with the CPP-National Democratic Front and instead start negotiations with local NPA guerrilla units."

Abducted soldier released by NPAs to remain in hospital for medication

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 2): Abducted soldier released by NPAs to remain in hospital for medication

The military has admitted for medical attention Sgt. Adriano Bingil, an abducted soldier who was released by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed-wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), on December 31, 2015, at Las Nieves town of Agusan del Norte.

Based from the initial examination, Sgt. Bingil is experiencing both physical and mental fatigue,” said military physician Major Jonna Dalaguit.

Dalaguit said Bingil will be temporarily admitted at a station hospital to recuperate from his current condition.

On September 19, 2015, the NPA abducted Bingil, a member of the Bayanihan team of the 26th Infantry Battalion assigned in Barangay Mahagsay, San Luis town of Agusan del Sur.
Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesman of the 4th Infantry Division said a barangay kagawad who was with Bingil when they were flagged down by the NPA rebels while riding a motorcycle, supposed Bingil was targeted because the rebels wanted the AFP to stop its Bayanihan efforts for peace and development in the remote areas of the CARAGA region.

The captive soldier was deprived of his freedom for the last three and a half months, not to mention the anxiety and anguish experienced by his family and loved ones,” Martinez said.

Tataw ni nga walay kaayuhan nga gusto ang NPA sa among barangay. Ang gusto lang nila magpabilin ang kalisud arun dali ra makarekrut og bag-ong miyembro sa NPA (It is clear that the NPAs don’t want our barangay to be developed for them to easily recruit new member),” said Martinez, quoting the barangay kagawad, who requested anonymity.

Martinez admitted that the incident has somehow affected the supposed delivery of some government programs and services for the Lumads.

Col. Alexander Macario, commander of 401st Infantry Brigade, said: “For the NPA bandits, once development have set-in in that area or in every community, the issues that they are catalyzing upon will no longer be relevant. That is why they need to do something for example kidnapping our soldier to block or impede these developments from reaching our people.”

Mayor Ronaldo Corvera of San Luis, Agusan del Sur, and the head of municipal crisis committee, together with Rep. Lawrence Fortun, 1st District of Agusan del Norte, and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City, facilitated the release of Bingil, who was brought to the Division Advance Command Post in Barangay Bancasi, Butuan City.

Bingil was immediately received by the acting commander of the 4th Infantry Division, Brigadier General Paul Atal, Deputy Brigade Commander of 401st Infantry Brigade, Col. Cresente Maligmat, and the medical team for check-up.

What the NPA did is plain kidnapping and it is a crime punishable by law. Nevertheless, we appreciate the gesture of them returning our soldier, hoping that they are projecting a renewed faith in peace and aspiring to resume the peace talks with the government through the NDF,” said Atal.

BIFF: Attacks have nothing to do with delay in BBL passage

From the Philippine Star (Jan 2): BIFF: Attacks have nothing to do with delay in BBL passage

The continuing spate of attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Central Mindanao has nothing to do with the delayed approval by Congress of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the group’s spokesman said Saturday.

The draft BBL, still pending in Congress, is the enabling measure for the replacement of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with a Bangsamoro political entity based on the final compact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.

“We don’t recognize or support the ongoing peace efforts of the government and the MILF. This is our very own struggle for an independent Islamic state,” sad BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama.

The BIFF is comprised of rogue Moro rebels led by radical preachers known for their extreme interpretation of the Qur’an and their ruthless enforcement of a Taliban-style justice system in areas where they operate.

Local folks want the government and the MILF peace panels to help put an end to the recurring attacks by BIFF which started shortly before Christmas.

The two panels are bound by interim security agreements, including the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities, to mutually cooperate in addressing security concerns in areas where there are MILF forces.

The BIFF on Saturday again warned of more attacks in response to government’s crackdown on local Jihadist factions.

Mama said their harassment of peasant enclaves and military detachments in Central Mindanao were also meant to show their continuing opposition to the presence of state forces in Moro-dominated areas in the region, now a hotbed of Islamic militancy.

“The BIFF is not a spent force as what the military keeps saying. We’re here and we shall make the government feel our presence for every opportunity that we can,” Mama said.

BIFF commanders had said their deadly maneuvers since last week were partly meant to avenge the deaths of jihadists killed in the government’s continuing crackdown on Moro factions sympathetic to the Independent State of Iraq and Syria.

Eight young members of a local Islamist group displaying the iconic black ISIS flag in their hideout in Barangay Butril in Palimbang town in Sultan Kudarat were killed by pursing combatants of the 1st Marine Brigade last month in an operation initiated on the behest of local folks threatened by their presence.

The Al-Qaeda-linked and now confessed ISIS-inspired Abu Sayyaf also suffered fatalities in a military offensive in Albarka town in Basilan last month, which resulted to the government’s takeover of its enclave in the municipality.

BIFF leaders have overtly been expressing allegiance to ISIS whenever they talk to journalists.

“We have nothing to do with the ongoing GPH-MILF peace initiative. We don’t have any peace endeavour with the government. We are at war with government,” Mama said.

The MILF’s peace panel, chaired by Muhaquer Iqbal, had repeatedly said in the past there seemed no more chance for any reconciliation between them and the BIFF owing to its persistent rejection of the Mindanao peace process.

The BIFF was founded by the Saudi-trained cleric Ameril Ombra Kato, who started as chief of the 105th Base Command of the MILF, but got booted out in 2009 due to insubordination and irreconcilable differences with its central committee.

Troopers strike back, kill 6 BIFF

From The Standard (Jan 3): Troopers strike back, kill 6 BIFF

GROUND troops on New Year’s Eve turned the tide of battle on the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, killing six of its members and wounding several others of the terror group that launched simultaneous attacks on different military installations in Central Mindanao.

The attacks started during the New Year revelry with the BIFF rebels launching grenade and mortar attacks on three separate military installations in the towns of Datu Piang, Shariff Aguak, and Shariff Saydona Mustapha, all in Maguindanao province.

The attacks forced thousand families to scamper for shelter in government evacuation centers to avoid being caught in the crossfire following the death of six farmers on Christmas eve on similar atrocities.

Capt Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs office head of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said civilians in communities affected by the BIFF attacks reported that retreating rebels carried with them about five to six dead bodies and several wounded comrades.

This brings to 129 the number of BIFF rebels who  were killed after the military repulsed their attacks on military posts this year,  the highest of which was recorded in April 16 where 52 bandits were killed, among them Commander Hassan Indal and one alias “Tambako” who is reportedly a  top lieutenant of Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, and three child soldiers.

The renewed BIFF attacks happened after the terror group decided to lay low following the death of their leader Basit Usman who was killed by army pursuing troops in Maguindanao last September.

The BIFF’s last-ditch effort to exact revenge against the military started when the rebels attacked a  military detachment in Datu Piang where they fired an M203 grenade  which exploded  some  50 meters away from the Kaungan Detachment of the Army’s Mechanized Infantry Company at about 6 p.m.

At around 9:30 p.m., about 30 BIFF rebels attacked the Timbangan Detachment of the 34th IB in Barangay Timbangan, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao but they were met by a barrage of gunfire by army troopers.

After an hour-long cesssation of gunfire, the rebels resumed their attacks this time at the Linantangan Detachment of the 40th Infantry Battalion situated at Barangay Linantangan, Sharrif Syadona Mustapha, Maguindanao but there were no reported casualties on the government side.

“The already prepared military forces immediately engaged the harassing lawless elements for an estimated 15-minute firefight, prompting the BIFF to withdraw and scamper towards different directions,” said Petinglay.

On Christmas eve, the BIFF fired mortar shells at a military detachment in Datu Sangki, Maguindanao, but were repulsed by soldiers.

As the BIFF rebels withdrew, the terror group chanced on civilian farmers and shot them mercilessly.

Army Chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano has earlier ordered an additional deployment of troops in Central Mindanao in anticipation of  heightened BIFF attacks to  protect civilian communities and strengthened the military’s defense against future assaults.

Misinformation, black propaganda spread in Sulu

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 2): Misinformation, black propaganda spread in Sulu

Sulu Vice Governor Sakur Tan has reminded the public to be extra careful in dealing with text messages they are getting from unknown sources after civilians and even local media received messages of an impending attacks by armed group in the province.

Tan urged those who received text messages to file a report with the police so that authorities could take appropriate actions to stop the proliferation of cell phone messages that tend to scare or sow fear among civilians.

One text message received by a civilian from an unknown person said gunmen would attack Pata Island for reason still unclear, although there was a report of a brief shooting in the area. Another text message urged civilians to evacuate or get out of their village.

Tan said there have been a spike of black propaganda through text messages since politicians filed their certificate of candidacy for next year’s polls.

The propaganda, he said, included personal attacks, slander, defamation and libelous messages sent out by political opponents and detractors, others by people paid by unscrupulous politicians to besmirch the good reputation of others, and destroy peace and development efforts of the government in Sulu.

He said police forces were deployed in key areas in Sulu to protect the civilians from threats of lawless elements. Tan said even civilians are helping authorities by providing information about lawless groups.

Tan said he would ask the National Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to investigate and file criminal charges against those behind the spread of misinformation and black propaganda in Sulu because not only it creates fear and terror among civilians, it also violates the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Zambo City eyes establishment of command center

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 2): Zambo City eyes establishment of command center
The city government is putting up this year a Php 110-million command center that would serve as this city’s emergency response hub.

Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said Saturday the establishment of the command center was to synchronize the response of the different agencies in times of emergencies.

“We want to initiate this (center) so we will be able to respond to emergency better,” Salazar added.

She said the command center would be placed at City Hall.

It will be equipped with radio communications and video system for timely and efficient emergency response.

Salazar said the putting up of a command center formed part of her administration’s priority on security.

Army accuses NPA of breaking holiday truce anew

From GMA News (Jan 2): Army accuses NPA of breaking holiday truce anew

The Philippine Army on Saturday accused the New People's Army (NPA) anew of breaking the holiday truce after an alleged attack on troops in Goa, Camarines Sur on New Year's Day.

The Army said eight members of the 83rd Infantry Battalion and six CAFGU members of the 22nd Infantry Battalion were ambushed by at least 10 suspected NPA rebels at around 4 p.m. Friday.

Col. Claudio Yucot of the 901st Infantry Brigade said that the troops were conducting a "New Year's visit" when they were ambushed by the rebels.

"It's a New Year's visit to assure the barangy folks of our presence, that we are not remiss in our duty to provide them security when the attack happened leaving no choice for our soldiers but to fire back," Yucot said.

He said the soldiers escaped the ambush unhurt, adding that an undetermine number on the NPA's side were hurt based on blood stains seen at the clash site.

Yucot said seized after the 20-minute clash were an M14 rifle, one AK50 rifle, two hand grenades, bandoleers with 18 assorted magazines and ammunitions.

He added that the soldiers also discovered landmines planted along their path to the barangay.

Yucot said he did not order a pursuit operatioin against the rebels because the government's ceasefire is still in effect.

The Communist Party of the Philippines declared a holiday truce from 12:01 a.m. of Dec. 23, 20i5 to 11:59 p.m. of Jan. 3, 2016.

The government's declared holiday ceasefire also covers the same dates.

The Philippine Army had also accused the NPA of breaking the holiday truce last December 26.