Sunday, January 3, 2016

Military remains on alert after foiled NPA attack—Palace

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 4): Military remains on alert after foiled NPA attack—Palace 

As the unilateral declaration of suspension of military operations concludes before midnight, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) shall remain on alert, especially after a foiled attack by communist rebels in Camarines Sur last Friday.

Malacañang issued the statement Sunday following reports that 10 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) broke the 12-day holiday truce and launched a deliberate yet unsuccessful attack against the military amid the New Year observance.

Citing an account from the Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM), Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said the rebels fired on at least eight soldiers and six members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) in Barangay Scout Fuentebella, Goa, Camarines Sur.

“Walang naiulat na nasaktan sa ating puwersa at ilang armas at gamit mula sa NPA ang iniulat na nakuha ng SOLCOM sa lugar na pinangyarihan,” the Palace official added in an interview over Radyo ng Bayan.

The AFP opted not to pursue any immediate offensive action in honor of the ceasefire proclamation, Coloma said, but the soldiers are keeping their eyes peeled to secure the public in light of the incident.

“Sa kabila ng engkuwentro patuloy na tumatalima ang buong hukbong sandatahan sa umiiral na unilateral declaration of Suspension of Military Operations na nakatakdang magtapos mamayang bago mag-hatinggabi (11:59 p.m. of January 3),” Coloma said.

“Patuloy na nakatutok at alerto ang ating Sandatahang Lakas dahil pangunahing layunin nila, kabilang na rin ang ating Pambansang Kapulisan, ang pangangalaga sa seguridad, katahimikan at kaayusan ng ating mga komunidad at mga mamamayan,” he added.

Malacanang bares regular and special holidays for 2016

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 4): Malacanang bares regular and special holidays for 2016

President Benigno S. Aquino III issued Proclamation No. 1105 declaring the national holidays to be observed in 2016 to allow the businessmen, various offices, both public and private, and schools to plan their activities.

The regular holidays and special non-working days posted at the Official Gazette ( are as follows:

A. Regular Holidays
  • January 1 (Friday) – New Year’s Day
  • March 24 – Maundy Thursday
  • March 25 – Good Friday
  • April 9 (Saturday) – Araw ng Kagitingan
  • May 1 (Sunday) – Labor Day
  • June 12 (Sunday) – Independence Day
  • August 29 (Monday) – National Heroes’ Day
  • November 30 (Wednesday) – Bonifacio Day
  • December 25 (Sunday) – Christmas Day
  • December 30 (Friday) – Rizal Day
B. Special (Non-Working) Days
  • February 8 (Monday) – Chinese New Year
  • February 25 (Thursday) – EDSA People Power Revolution
  • March 26 – Black Saturday
  • August 21 (Sunday) – Ninoy Aquino Day
  • November 1 (Tuesday) – All Saints’ Day

The proclamation also declared January 2 (Saturday), October 31 (Monday), December 24 (Saturday) and December 31 (Saturday) as additional special non-working days throughout the country to strengthen family ties by providing longer New Year, All Saints’ Day and Christmas weekends and to promote domestic tourism as well.

Meanwhile, Eid’l Fitr and Eidul Adha shall be celebrated as national holidays once the exact dates are determined in the Islamic calendar.

According to Section 3 of the proclamation, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) shall promulgate the implementing guidelines for this order.

PHL says China raising tensions in WPS for conducting flight test in Manila-claimed reef

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4): PHL says China raising tensions in WPS for conducting flight test in Manila-claimed reef

The Philippines on Monday accused China of raising tensions anew in the West Philippine Sea for conducting a test flight over a Manila-claimed reef, saying it will be protesting Beijing’s action.

“We will file it in due course. Fiery Cross or Kagitingan Reef is part of our Kalayaan Island Group,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose told reporters.

China defended its move, saying the flight test was conducted to ensure that the reef it now occupies and transformed into an artificial island with a runway, adheres to safety aviation standards.

China has asserted indisputable claim over nearly the entire South China Sea and has built man-made islands on seven reefs, including Fiery Cross, in a move that has triggered concerns among several nations, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Unites States and Japan.

“The test flight of China in Kagitingan has definitely raised tensions in the region,” Jose said. “That’s the fear, that China will be able to take control of the South China Sea, and it will affect the freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight plus unimpeded flow of commerce.”

Vietnam, which also claims the reef, earlier lodged a protest against China’s test flight. Hanoi’s protest was rejected by Beijing, insisting that its actions are within its sovereign right.

South China Sea is home to vast oil and mineral deposits and to a cluster of contested islands, reefs and atolls further south, called the Spratlys.

The Philippines has adopted the name West Philippine Sea for parts of the waters that fall under its exclusive economic zone as allowed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the waters.

All claimants, except for Brunei, have stationed military troops in their territories in the vast sea, said to be sitting atop huge oil and gas deposits.

PN to acquire spare parts for WCEIS of 'Pohang' class corvette

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 4): PN to acquire spare parts for WCEIS of 'Pohang' class corvette

The Philippine Navy (PN) is allocating the sum of Php10,975,100 for the acquisition of parts needed for the maintenance and repair of the weapons, communications, electronics, and information systems (WCEIS) of the soon-to-be donated South Korean "Pohang" class corvette.

This was disclosed in a bid bulletin published by the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System.

In the same posting, the South Korean was identified as "PCC-759" or the "Mokpo".

Winning bidders are required to deliver the items within 45 calendar days.

Pre-bid conference is on Jan. 12, 9 a.m. at the Office of the PN Special Bids and Awards Committee, PN Hall of Justice Naval Station Jose Francisco, Fort Andres Bonifacio, Taguig City.

The South Korean government on 2014 announced that it is donating one "Pohang" class corvette to the PN.

The "Pohang" class corvette is general purpose vessels operated by the Republic of Korea Navy.

They have served in a coastal defense role during the late Cold War and post Cold War period.

A total of 24 "Pohang"class vessels were built, all constructed in South Korea.

Twenty one vessels remain in service.

"Pohang" class corvettes weigh around 1,200 long tons and has a length of 289 feet and 8 inches.

It has beam of 32 feet and 10 inches and a draft of 9 feet and six inches.

The ship is powered by CODOG (combined diesel and gas propulsion system).

"Pohang" corvettes have a maximum speed of 32 knots and a cruising speed of 15 knots.

It has range of 4,000 nautical miles and a crew of 95 officers and enlisted personnel.

Sensors and processing systems include a AN/SQS-58 hull-mounted sonar.

The ships are armed with Harpoon and Exocet anti-ship missiles, a 76mm Oto Melara automatic cannon, a Breda 40mm twin cannons and two Mark 32 triple torpedo tubes (with 6× Mark 46 torpedoes) and 12 Mark 9 depth charges.

Kalayaan protesters: We have lost Pag-asa Island to China

From GMA News (Jan 4): Kalayaan protesters: We have lost Pag-asa Island to China 

The group of youth volunteers who made a symbolic protest against Beijing’s claims in the West Philippine Sea on Monday claimed that the Philippines "has lost" the Pag-asa Island to China.

In a statement, the group Kalayaan Atin Ito Movement said China’s actions on the Pag-asa Island, which is part of the Philippine-claimed Kalayaan chain, "blatantly violates our sovereignty and clearly disregarded international law that is suppose to rule the sea."

China claims most of the South China Sea, but the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims within the territory. Manila refers to parts of the South China Sea that it claims as West Philippine Sea.

The group said China has built a "triangle militarized zone" from Fiery Cross Reef to Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, where even the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also has difficulty passing through.

"We have lost to China the heart of the Kalayaan Island Group Municipality through their triangle militarized zone," the group said. "Inside this triangle, are the other military bases that China has built."

It added that China "is walking the talk when it declared that it will not heed to whatever will be the result of the ongoing arbitration and will continue to militarize the West Philippine Sea and do whatever they want because they claim that it belongs to them."

The group said China was building a secured military storage for their weapons that it "will become impossible for any opposing military power to destroy these facilities" without destroying Palawan and other islands in Luzon and Mindanao.

The volunteers also claimed that a helicopter and a patrol ship from the Chinese coast guard with bow number 46708 continuously patrolled the shores of Pag-asa Island.

"Our fishermen too cannot fish in this fishing grounds. In fact, in the entire West Philippine Sea, we have lost its value as a fishing ground to China," they said.

The 47 youths, who returned to Palawan on Sunday, said they will present a more detailed report with photos and videos in the coming days.

Stop BIFF attacks, Mindanaons ask

From the Manila Times (Jan 4): Stop BIFF attacks, Mindanaons ask

ABDULLAH SANGKI, Maguindanao: Beleaguered residents of conflict-torn towns in the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat have appealed to the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels to intervene and prevent the recurrence of attacks from a Moro breakaway group in Central Mindanao.

Residents noted that the two peace panels are duty-bound to observe interim security agreements, including the July 1997 Agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities, to mutually cooperate in addressing security concerns in areas where there are MILF forces.

However, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the MILF, is not bound by the agreement.

Local officials said they are convinced the government and MILF panels can do something to address the BIFF threat squarely with the help of the police and the military.
The BIFF’s simultaneous attacks late last month left 13 people dead, among them eight farmers from Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat and from the towns of Datu Saudi-Ampatuan and Datu Abdullah Sangki. The atrocities displaced more than a thousand families.
The 33rd Infantry Battalion headed by Lt Colonel Ricky Bunayog, which has jurisdiction over the restive areas, said the BIFF also suffered four fatalities during the encounter with responding soldiers.

With the BIFF having suffered four casualties, the residents fear that the extremists may retaliate anytime, hence, their appeal for intervention from both the government and MILF panels.

Meanwhile, Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has denounced the BIFF attacks as barbaric and called on the affected communities to remain sober.

“The attack was devoid of any sense of revolutionary zeal and principles. It was an act of terrorism. It was an attack against civilians, an attack against peace and development in Mindanao, and a cowardly act that deserves nothing but our collective condemnation,” Hataman said in a statement.

Hataman, also the chairman of the ARMM’s inter-agency regional peace and order council, assured the residents that the government is doing its best to address the security problems hounding the local communities.

Editorial: Talking to the wrong people

Editorial posted to The Standard (Jan 4): Talking to the wrong people

IT seems inconceivable that anyone would engage another party in serious negotiations for six years before realizing that they were talking to the wrong people. Yet astonishingly, this is exactly what the government’s chief negotiator with the communist rebels said he realized toward the tail end of the Aquino administration’s six years in office.

“We are talking to the wrong people in the NDF,” said the government’s chief peace negotiator, Alex Padilla, referring to the National Democratic Front, represented by the self-exiled founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Ma. Sison, and his seemingly tenuous connection with the party’s armed wing, the New People’s Army.

“The NDF has no control over NPA. That is very clear to us now…The one that gives orders to the NPA is the CPP. Now if the CPP gives orders to the NPA, then we should be talking to the CPP, not the NDF,” Padilla said.

He added: “It’s been 30 years that we have been talking to the NDF. I maybe am the fifth panel head and we have been talking to one and the same panel that is principally in Utrecht. So my question is, is the NDF the right group to talk peace with?”

Padilla also urged the next administration to initiate direct talks with the rebels on the ground, rather than its advisers in the Netherlands.

Padilla’s belated epiphany suggests that as in so many other matters, the Aquino administration has proved incompetent in seeking peace with the communists.

How long, we wonder, did it take our top peace negotiator to realize that Sison, ensconced in his Utrecht cocoon, had no say in the operations of the NPA?

Why, if he had realized this early on, did he continue talking to the NDF?

But Padilla should not be singled out for talking to the wrong people. The government’s top peace negotiators with the Muslim rebels have also been guilty of talking to the wrong people by focusing exclusively on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to the exclusion of other groups who also have a stake in a peaceful settlement of the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.

Where Padilla’s team achieved nothing in the last six years, the team of Miriam Coronel Ferrer and Secretary Teresita Deles went the other way, going overboard and bending the Constitution to give the MILF rebels almost everything they demanded to the detriment of the national interest.

Perhaps it is the rebels, after all, who are talking to the wrong people. They should be talking to competent peace negotiators who can carefully analyze the situation on the ground before they start opening their mouths.

Ex-NPA captured by rebels released

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 4): Ex-NPA captured by rebels released

Soldier rants after being denied entry, but exec says he got it wrong

BACOLOD CITY—The New People’s Army (NPA) has released from captivity on Dec. 25 a member of a breakaway communist faction who had been held since Dec. 10.

Members of the NPA freed Cerilo Bagnoran, a member of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB), who had been captured by the rebels in La Castellana town during a raid on a cock farm owned by another RPA-ABB member identified as Rene Uropa.

Uropa, who had also been a target for capture by the NPA, was able to escape.

RPA-ABB is composed of former NPA members who broke off from the mainstream rebel underground movement over differences in strategies and ideology.

RPA-ABB has since entered into a peace agreement with the government, under the then administration of deposed President Joseph Estrada.

The release of Bagnoran came after Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon and Bagnoran’s family appealed to the NPA to free Bagnoran as a Christmas gift to his loved ones.

The plea was heeded as NPA rebels freed Bagnoran on Christmas Day at a chapel in the village of Macagahay in Moises Padilla town, Negros Occidental province.

In a statement, the NPA Leonardo Panaligan Command-Bagong Hukbong Bayan, the communist guerrilla unit operating in Negros Occidental, said Bagnoran was captured for trial by a revolutionary court for alleged involvement in the murder of two persons whose families had sought the help of the NPA.

The statement said Bagnoran was freed after he was found not guilty.

It said Bagnoran had been charged with the killings of Cristy Florendia, of La Castellana town, and bibingka vendor Elmer Macurba, of Guihulngan town in Negros Oriental.

The NPA statement was signed by NPA leaders Heneroso Siliang and Nadren Alberastin, presumably noms de guerre.

The statement said an NPA investigating team found that when Florendia was killed in 2012, Bagnoran was confined in a hospital.

Bagnoran was also recovering from an illness and could not have taken part in the alleged torture of Macurba in 2015 inside a safehouse of RPA-ABB.

Communist rebels on Panay Island earlier said they would step up attacks against government troopers and vowed to help frustrate administration efforts to consolidate votes on the island for the Liberal Party standard-bearer, former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.

In a statement marking its recent founding anniversary, the Panay regional committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines said attacks launched by the NPA on the island in 2015 demonstrated the strength of the rebel movement in Panay.

COA seeks probe of ‘forged’ signatures in OPAPP attendance sheets

From the Philippine Star (Jan 4): COA seeks probe of ‘forged’ signatures in OPAPP attendance sheets

The Commission on Audit (COA) is calling for an investigation into possible forgeries in the attendance sheets for conferences and meetings attended by the officers and staff of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in 2014.

In a recently released report, state auditors said the signatures appearing in the documents for various claims attached to support expenses “were unreliable and doubtful.”

There are “disparities in signatures of same attendees on different attendance sheets and apparent similarity or resemblance of handwriting strokes by different claimants,” the audit team said in their report.

“In a number of attendance sheets, different names were printed but the handwriting/strokes were similar,” they added.

A review on a sampling basis of the attendance sheets for the meal expenses incurred in 2014 also showed inconsistencies in the handwriting of different signatories.

“There were several attendance sheets that included the same name but with different signatures,” the audit team said, adding that reports from the same establishments also bared different signatures although the names indicated were the same.

The COA said the OPAPP management should conduct investigation to determine authenticity of the signatures.

The COA said if evidence warrants, errant personnel should face appropriate charges with the audit team properly informed of the outcome of the investigation and the corresponding action undertaken.

The audit team noted that COA Circular 2012-001 dated June 14, 2012 states that claims against government funds should be supported by complete, sufficient and relevant documents to establish the validity of the claim.

YEARENDER: PNP hits rock bottom, but shines in the end

From the Philippine Star (Jan 4): YEARENDER: PNP hits rock bottom, but shines in the end

SAF women officers offer flowers to fallen soldiers in Mamasapano during the SAF 44 Memorial Day held at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig in August. JOVEN CAGANDE           

 The morale of the Philippine National Police (PNP) hit rock bottom at the beginning of the year just past as 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were massacred in Mamasapano, Maguindanao and police chief Alan Purisima was dismissed from the service.

However, 2015 was also the PNP’s shining moment when it oversaw the peaceful and orderly conduct of two major international events – the visit of Pope Francis in January and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in November.

The 20th PNP chief was also named in 2015 – Director General Ricardo Marquez, who may have been an unfamiliar face but many police officials attest to his being a capable and competent officer.

The police organization could not deny that the dust of bad news from 2014 was carried over to 2015, particularly regarding the suspended Purisima.

The Office of the Ombudsman suspended Purisima on Dec. 5, 2014 on charges of corruption, though he professed innocence.

Following the law of succession, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, then second in command as deputy chief for administration, took over as officer-in-charge. He tried to restore normalcy in the police force and uplift the morale of its 150,000 members.

Espina as OIC headed the PNP in securing the visit of Pope Francis from Jan. 15 to 19. He was assisted by Marquez as then director for operations, who oversaw the nitty-gritty of security preparations. About 28,000 policemen were deployed in the pope’s areas of engagement in Manila and Leyte.

Police forces were augmented by about 40,000 volunteers in making the papal visit orderly and peaceful, an achievement lauded by various sectors.

While the PNP leadership was savoring their success in securing the pope and the mammoth crowd of devotees, some policemen complained of not receiving food allowance during their five-day deployment.

The complaint was immediately acted upon by the PNP leadership with the relief of a female police superintendent serving as budget officer for the alleged discrepancy in the money allowance for policemen.

The euphoric mood after the success of the pope’s visit was overturned a week later, as news broke about the death of 44 SAF commandos at the hands of separatists during a police operation in Mamasapano on Jan. 25.

Despite being OIC, Espina was not part of the inner circle of government officials reporting directly to the President, but reported only to then Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II. Purisima is a close friend of President Aquino.

Roxas and Espina flew to Maguindanao the day after to get the facts straight from the ground. The two officials even held a press conference to give detailed information about the operation involving high value target Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

On the third day Roxas and Espina admitted when asked by The STAR that they were both left out of the loop about the SAF operation against suspected foreign-trained bombers associated with terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Like Roxas, Espina claimed the SAF also did not inform him about the operation to arrest Marwan and his Filipino comrade Basit Usman.

Roxas announced the relief of SAF chief Director Getulio Napeñas pending the report of the PNP Board of Inquiry formed to establish a clear picture of the incident, where 12 others were also wounded in action.

The BOI was headed by Director Benjamin Magalong, then chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

Who gave SAF the go signal?

During the investigation, Napeñas confessed he reported directly to then suspended chief Purisima. Both officials with then Intelligence Chief Superintendent Ferdinand Mendez met President Aquino in Malacañang days before the Mamasapano raid. Napeñas recalled Purisima giving him instructions not to inform Roxas and Espina about the operation.

After pieces of the Mamasapano puzzle fell into place, Magalong’s BOI finalized its report, pointing to Purisima, who had by then resigned, and Napeñas as being responsible for the operation that led to the deaths of the 44 SAF commandos.

The 126-page BOI detailed 22 conclusions, the first of which was that the President gave the go-signal and allowed the execution of Oplan Exodus after the concept of operations was presented to him by Napeñas.

It also reported that the President allowed the participation of Purisima in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus despite his being suspended. The BOI said the President exercised his prerogative to deal directly with Napeñas instead of OIC Espina.

As families of the slain SAF 44 mourned, the government reported that they would receive a total of P66.37 million to help them continue their education and provide other needs of their families.

The President did not even show up at Villamor Air Base when the bodies of the commandos were brought back to Manila.

The Office of the Ombudsman subsequently ordered Purisima’s dismissal, as well that of then Central Luzon regional director Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta and nine other police officials for the allegedly anomalous P100-million courier service contract with Werfast Documentary Agency in 2011 for the delivery of gun licenses.

The PNP is also haunted by the controversy on the missing 1,004 pieces of AK-47 armalites, which reportedly ended up in the hands of the communist New People’s Army. The disappearance of the weapons was exposed by President Aquino himself.

Purisima and other officials named in the cases maintained their innocence.

The dismissal of Purisima and Petrasanta from the service forced President Aquino to look for another official who could lead the police force. In July, the President finally appointed Marquez as PNP chief in a permanent capacity.

Roxas vouched for Marquez as a hardworking police official who helped contain the threat of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus during Holy Week 2014.

The PNP chief personally supervised the preparation and implementation of the security plan for the APEC meeting in November.

Marquez ensured that the welfare of the hundreds of policemen deployed to secure APEC heads, delegates and the public was taken care of.

Unlike during the pope’s visit when policemen complained of hunger, the PNP hired about 100 catering services to serve food for police personnel during their five-day deployment. The PNP leadership even specified the menu to ensure that the troops would not be fed similar food over the five days.

Although the Highway Patrol Group (HPG) received criticism for closing the stretch of EDSA used by APEC delegates, the PNP maintained all the security measures were meant to ensure the success of the international event.

HPG tapped to handle traffic

As public perception of the PNP continued to improve, President Aquino ordered the HPG to handle the monstrous traffic jam along EDSA, which on occasion had turned into a virtual parking lot.

Initially, in late September, the President instructed the HPG to manage six chokepoints – Balintawak, Cubao, Ortigas, Shaw Blvd., Guadalupe and Pasay Rotonda.

The snappy HPG members received positive reactions from the public and some private groups and individuals gave donations of vitamins, raincoats and other items in recognition of and to aid their effort to help improve traffic along EDSA.

PNP also helps in disaster relief

The PNP is seeking additional budget for disaster response operations which are eating up a big chunk of its budget intended for law enforcement missions.

Marquez said policemen are on the frontline in disaster response operations, preemptive evacuations and information dissemination and in many cases taking the lead in the search, rescue and relief missions.

While other government agencies have funds for disaster preparation and response, Marquez said the PNP does not.

Cops dismissed

In June, nine policemen involved in the hulidap incident along EDSA were recommended dismissed from the police service for being absent without official leave.

On Sept. 1, 2014, a commuter captured a photo of an apparent hulidap incident in broad daylight and uploaded it on Twitter, which went viral. After a thorough investigation, the policemen were identified and the victims claimed losing more than P2 million to the suspects.

Marquez vowed that his administration would not tolerate erring cops.

AFP projects await award notice

From the Philippine Star (Jan 4): 4 AFP projects await award notice

Data seen by The STAR showed the key upgrade projects awaiting award notices are the air surveillance radars worth P2.68 billion, Marine Forces Imagery and Targeting Support System Acquisition Project or drones worth P684 million, the eight amphibious assault vehicles worth P2.5 billion and Air Force full motion flight simulators worth P246 million.

Four big-ticket military upgrade projects, including radars for territorial defense and drones, are awaiting the issuance of notices of award by the Department of National Defense.

The notice of award is a document stating that the project already has a winning bidder. The issuance of notice is an important step in the procurement process, as this leads to the actual implementation of the project.

Data seen by The STAR showed the key upgrade projects awaiting award notices are the air surveillance radars worth P2.68 billion, Marine Forces Imagery and Targeting Support System Acquisition Project or drones worth P684 million, the eight amphibious assault vehicles worth P2.5 billion and Air Force full motion flight simulators worth P246 million.

All the projects have gone through the post-qualification phase, which allows the government to check if the supplier’s offer is responsive to the needs of the military unit that will use the equipment.

The procurement process for the four projects moved forward after President Aquino signed the Armed Forces modernization program shopping list last July. Before the signing, the projects were put on hold because the budget could not be released.

Severe sanctions prevented uniformed personnel from illegal firing of weapons -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency : Severe sanctions prevented uniformed personnel from illegal firing of weapons -- AFP
Stiff sanctions have prevented members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from firing their weapons indiscriminately during the New Year's Eve revelry.

AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla made the statement on Sunday.

Military personnel caught firing their weapons illegally may face criminal charges, dishonorable separation from the service and forfeiture of all their privileges and retirement benefits if found guilty, he added.

"So far, we are still to receive any reports concerning our troops being involved in indiscriminate firing incidents. We are hopeful that this will stay as we are targeting for a 'zero' incident record," he said in Filipino.

In addition, Padilla believes that professionalism and discipline of the Filipino soldier kept the latter from illegally firing weapons during New Year's Eve celebration.

First strategic sealift vessel to be named after key PHL city

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4): First strategic sealift vessel to be named after key PHL city

The country's first strategic sealift vessel (SSV), which is expected to be delivered in May, will be named after a key Philippine city, a Philippine Navy official said.

PN Spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said the SSV will be named after a city like BRP Dagupan (LCC-551) and BRP Bacolod City (LCC-550), both landing and transport ships.

While these vessels are named after key cities, frigates and other surface combatants are named after Filipino heroes and military personnel who have shown dedication and gallantry in serving the nation.

The Philippines has a two SSV deal with Indonesian shipbuilder PT PAL (Persero) worth PHP3.87 billion.

The ships are estimated to weigh around 7,300 gross register tons.

The SSVs will be the largest ships in PN service upon delivery.

Arevalo earlier said the first SSV is now 87 percent complete and will be launched this month.

Eight seven percent completion means the ship's keel, propulsion, engine and other major systems are now installed.

The second SSV, now 46 percent complete, will be delivered in 2017, Arevalo added.

Arevalo said defensive armament of the ships will be installed by the PN.

Anti-China protesters return from Philippine-held island

From Rappler (Jan 3): Anti-China protesters return from Philippine-held island

The 47 young members of the Kalayaan Atin Ito group come home after protesting China's claim over the South China Sea

BACK HOME. This photo taken on December 26, 2015, provided by a group called Kalayaan Atin Ito (Kalayaan This Is Ours), shows Filipino youth posing for a photo at the island of Pag-asa, also known as Thitu, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of the western Philippines. Photo by Kalayaan Atin Ito/AFP

BACK HOME. This photo taken on December 26, 2015, provided by a group called Kalayaan Atin Ito (Kalayaan This Is Ours), shows Filipino youth posing for a photo at the island of Pag-asa, also known as Thitu, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of the western Philippines. Photo by Kalayaan Atin Ito/AFP 

Nearly 50 young Filipinos returned Sunday, January 3, from a remote Philippine-held island in the South China Sea where they had staged a week-long protest against Beijing's claims in the disputed waterway.

The group arrived at Pag-asa island on December 26 as part of an effort to stir up popular opposition to China's claim to most of the contested sea, including Pag-asa, also known as Thitu.

The 47 youths have now returned to Palawan island in the Philippines, Joy Ban-eg, a coordinator of the group, confirmed.

Pag-asa island is part of the Spratlys chain in the South China Sea. China claims most of the sea but the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan have conflicting claims. (READ: The residents of Pag-asa: Life on a disputed island)

The end of the trip by the 47 Filipino youths coincided with a fresh flare-up between China and claimant Vietnam over the contested sea, as Hanoi accused the Asian giant of landing a plane on a disputed reef.

Beijing insisted the operation took place within Chinese territory.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has said it will also file a protest over the incident.

The youth group, organized by a former navy officer, is called Kalayaan Atin Ito, which translates as "Kalayaan, This Is Ours."

"Kalayaan" is the name of a township established by the Philippines in the Spratlys to assert its territorial claim and is also the Filipino word for freedom.

The Philippine government had previously praised the group's "patriotism" but had urged them not to proceed with the trip, while the youth group had accused the Philippine government of not doing enough to stand up to China.

Photographs of the group, posted on their Facebook page, showed the youths camping on the island and posing with patriotic banners.

Reacting to the trip, the Chinese foreign ministry had previously said it was "strongly dissatisfied with the actions and words of the Philippine side."

Despite having one of the weakest militaries in the region, the Philippines has been vocal in challenging China's claims to the South China Sea, a vital sealane and rich fishing ground which is also believed to hold vast mineral resources.

The Philippines has an international arbitration case now pending in the Hague where it is challenging China's territorial claims, though China has refused to recognize the proceedings.

Duterte vows peace in 3-6 months if elected president

From Rappler (Jan 3): Duterte vows peace in 3-6 months if elected president

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte says he'll promote peace by talking to the NDF, MILF, MNLF, and other groups

NEW YEAR'S EVE. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte greeted by New People's Army rebels in Agusan del Norte on December 31, 2015. Photo by Editha Z. Caduaya/Rappler

NEW YEAR'S EVE. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte greeted by New People's Army rebels in Agusan del Norte on December 31, 2015. Photo by Editha Z. Caduaya/Rappler



Should he become president, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte vows to build peace among different forces in the country within 3 to 6 months.

Duterte made this promise as he spoke to hundreds of residents of Barangay Durian in Las Nieves, Agusan del Norte, after the New People's Army released abducted soldier Corporal Adriano Bingil on New Year's Eve.

The tough-talking mayor said his peace and order agenda involves discussions with different groups, such as the Communist Party of the Philippines' National Democratic Front (NDF), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), indigenous peoples, and groups who have been victims of injustice.

"I will go into inclusive talks with all – NPA, CPP, NDF, and I would talk to the MNLF, MILF," he said. "You cannot promote peace in this country by remaining divisive in your dimensions about the struggles of life. Alam mo, pag sulo ka gihapon, nag aligotgot (you know, when you culture anger and hatred in you), how can you build a nation? Because peace must be inclusive, it must involve everybody, maskin kinsa ang presidente (whoever the president is)."

Duterte also reiterated his pledge to stop corruption, illegal drugs, and criminality.

"Ako wala ko'y kuan sa criminals, ug sa druga wala jud to ana." (I don't want drugs and criminals, I don't.)

Duterte, tagged as the country's "Punisher" and "Dirty Harry," has been criticized by human rights activists for his iron-fist approach to criminality.

In his latest political advertisement released in December 2015, the presidential candidate had this message for drug traffickers, corrupt officials, and other criminals: Kung ayaw ninyong huminto at patuloy pa rin ang karahasan, ito na ang huli ninyong Merry Christmas.” (If you will not stop and the violence continues, this will be your last Merry Christmas.)

Philippines to protest China's test-flight on Spratlys

From Rappler (Jan 3): Philippines to protest China's test-flight on Spratlys

Manila will protest Beijing's test-flight of a civilian aircraft on an airstrip it built in the artificial island of Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea

FIERY CROSS. Satellite imagery shows changes to Fiery Cross Reef between February and March 2015, including the beginning of an airfield installation. Image courtesy: CNES 2015, Distribution Airbus DS/Spot Image/IHS

FIERY CROSS. Satellite imagery shows changes to Fiery Cross Reef between February and March 2015, including the beginning of an airfield installation. Image courtesy: CNES 2015, Distribution Airbus DS/Spot Image/IHS

The Philippines will protest China's test flight on a newly completed airstrip in an artificial island in the South China Sea.

Philippine foreign affairs spokesperson Charles Jose told Rappler that Manila will contest Beijing's landing of a civilian plane on Fiery Cross Reef on Saturday, January 2.

Manila’s move follows a similar protest from Vietnam, which accused China of violating Hanoi’s sovereignty.

“We will also be lodging a protest in due course,” Jose said on Sunday, January 3.

Jose said the Philippines claims the Fiery Cross Reef (which it calls Kagitingan Reef) as part of the Spratly Islands (Kalayaan Island Group). (READ: PH protests China's reclamation activity on Kagitingan Reef)

Manila filed a historic arbitration case against China before a United Nations tribunal, questioning Beijing’s massive reclamation in the South China Sea, including on Fiery Cross Reef. The Philippines and its treaty ally the United States have urged China to stop island-building and construction activities in the disputed sea.

Yet China’s foreign ministry said Saturday that it finished building an airport in the reef. It said the flight was meant “to test whether or not the facilities on [the airport] meet the standards for civil aviation.”

Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said the airfield was “built illegally” in territory “part of Vietnam’s Spratlys.” Hanoi gave a protest note to the Chinese embassy.

The flight came after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Vietnam in November to improve ties between the two communist nations.

Binh said China’s latest move goes against “the common conception of the high-ranking leaders of the two countries, and against an agreement on basic principles for solving maritime issues between Vietnam and China.”

The United States also expressed concern that the test flight will aggravate tensions among claimant countries.

Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said there was "a pressing need for claimants to publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of disputed features.”

"We encourage all claimants to actively reduce tensions from unilateral actions that undermine regional stability, and taking steps to create space for meaningful diplomatic solutions to emerge," she added.

Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which $5 trillion in annual trade passes.

One of the world’s busiest shipping routes, the sea is believed to hold vast deposits of oil and gas, and rich fishing grounds.

Militarized Spratlys?

China’s test flight set the maritime dispute off to a rocky start in 2016.

The move was seen as a sign of Beijing’s growing military capabilities. China repeatedly claims that its artificial islands are for civilian use but US officials said Beijing could eventually deploy radar and missile systems, and even establish an air defense identification zone.

The 3,000-meter airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef is large enough to accommodate most Chinese military planes, according to defense journal IHS Jane’s. It is the first airstrip China built in the Spratlys.

“While this was a civil test, this airport is clearly very militarily capable, and China could presumably start to use it in some capacity at any time,” Andrew Erickson, associate professor at the US Naval War College, told the Wall Street Journal.

In response to China’s increasing aggression, the Philippines resorted to arbitration. Among its claims is to have the tribunal declare that the Fiery Cross Reef is at most a reef entitled to a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea.

The Philippines also boosted its armed forces modernization program, and signed a security deal with the US to improve the capability of one of Asia’s weakest militaries.

Manila and other claimants also have airstrips on the Spratly Islands but the scale of China’s reclamation and construction activities far outpaces theirs.

3 wounded as followers of Sulu town mayor, nephew clash

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 3): 3 wounded as followers of Sulu town mayor, nephew clash

Three persons were wounded in a fighting between armed groups on Pata Island in Sulu on Saturday afternoon.

Dr. Raden Ikbala of the Sulu Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO hospital), identified the wounded Asaddi Adan, 45; Alawie Araji, 48; and Gaspar Araji, 23.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, 501st Brigade commander, also said three people were brought to the Sulu Provincial Hospital for medication. He, however, provided different names

He said the victims were residents of Saimbangun village in Pata, Sulu.

Sulu Vice Governor Sakur Tan earlier said the fighting was between the followers of Pata Mayor Anton Burahan and his nephew Al Sarapuddin.

Arrojado said the deployment of policemen to the island town “eased the tension.”

“In case the situation gets worse, that’s the time we will reinforce the police,” Arrojado said.

DND allots over P33M for aircraft munitions

From the Philippine Star (Jan 3): DND allots over P33M for aircraft munitions

The first two FA-50PH jet fighters make their way to the Philippines, their new home, from South Korea. KAI/Released

The Department of National Defense (DND) on Sunday announced that it is allocating over P33-million for the procurement of countermeasure munitions for light interim fighter aircraft.

The DND said it budgeted P33,702,286 for the acquisition of 17,80 units of RR-170 Chaffs and 8,640 units of MJU-7 IR Flares with impulsive cartridges to be fitted to the country’s brand new FA-50PH's Elbit Elisra SPS-45v5EC countermeasure dispenser system.

The country’s first two FA-50PH jet aircraft arrived on November 28 at the Clark Air Base, Angeles City as part of the 12-plane order from the Korea Aerospace Industries.

The purchase of the countermeasure munitions will also assure the survival of the FA-50PH or “Fighting Eagle” against enemy fire.

Countermeasures will be used to trap hostile radar and surface missile systems tracking or pursuing jet aircraft.

The pre-bid for the countermeasures is scheduled at January 6, 9 a.m. at the DND Bidding and Awards Committee Conference Room, DND Building, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

The Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System said the winning bidders are required to deliver the items within 360 calendar days.

Government, CPP-NPA end holiday truce

From the Philippine Star (Jan 3): Government, CPP-NPA end holiday truce

The holiday ceasefire declared by the CPP and the government started last December 23.

The 12-day holiday truce between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is set to end Sunday night with the military reiterating its call for the rebels to renounce violence and live peaceful lives.

With the end of the ceasefire, the military can resume offensive operations against the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the CPP.

“The armed forces will cease its active defense mode and will switch back to full military operations against all enemies of the state,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said in an interview.

“Every Filipino is saddened by the (fact) that peace only comes during the holidays particularly the Christmas season. The AFP believes that the Filipino is aspiring to finally attain peace in the whole country,” he added.

Padilla said it’s about time that the CPP-NPA consider abandoning the armed struggle, the only remaining communist insurgency in Asia.

“We support any peace process for the end of all hostilities,” the military spokesman said.

“We call on them (communist rebels) to consider renouncing the use of arms. We’ve had enough of conflict. It’s time to lay down their arms and work for the benefit of our people,” he added.

The holiday ceasefire declared by the CPP and the government started last December 23.

The truce barred government forces and communist rebels from launching offensives but they are allowed to defend themselves when under attack.

The military claimed that the NPA rebels had violated the ceasefire when they harassed soldiers in Surigao del Sur, Bukidnon and Davao City last month and in Camarines Sur on New Year’s Day.

The CPP has yet to issue a reaction on the military’s accusations.

The truce was declared in support of the peace negotiation between the communists and the government, which was called off in 2013 because of differences over detained rebel leaders.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which represented the CPP and NPA in the talks, demanded the release of rebels facing criminal cases, saying they are working as peace consultants and are therefore immune from arrest.

The NDFP pointed out that the release of peace consultants is provided under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees signed by peace negotiators in 1995.

Government negotiators, however, rejected the demand, saying the NDFP could not prove that the jailed rebels, especially those using aliases, were really peace consultants.

PHL to acquire C41STAR, radar systems --DND

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3): PHL to acquire C41STAR, radar systems --DND

With the Philippines now again operating supersonic jets -- the brand-new FA-50PH "Fighting Eagle" light-interim fighter aircraft -- the next step is to acquire command-and-control and radar systems.

This was disclosed by Department of National Defense (DND) Undersecretary for Finance, Munitions, Installations and Materiel Fernando Manalo Sunday.

He said the Philippines will source from the United States its command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (C4ISTAR) system for the Armed Forces and brand-new brand radar systems for the Air Force.

Manalo said the radar system, which will form part of the C4ISTAR, will be acquired from other countries.

He added the C4ISTAR system will be acquired in 2017 while the radar system project will bear fruit by 2017 to 2018.

The country has allocated PhP4.49 billion for the C4ISTAR system and PhP2.68 billion for three air surveillance radars.

China reject's Vietnam's protest; claims sovereignty over South China Sea Island

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3): China reject's Vietnam's protest; claims sovereignty over South China Sea Island

China has rejected Vietnam’s protest against a Chinese test flight to a contested island in the South China Sea, saying it falls within the nation’s sovereignty.

Vietnam accused China on Saturday of violating its sovereignty after China flew a civil aircraft to a newly-built airfield in a part of the Spratly archipelago that Vietnam claims as its own.

"The Chinese government conducted a test flight to the airport with a civil aircraft in order to test whether or not the facilities on it meet the standards for civil aviation," China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said late Saturday.

She stressed that this activity "falls completely within China’s sovereignty" and called Beijing’s rights for the islands and waters around them indisputable.

"The Chinese side will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side," Hua Chunying concluded.

China has been in a dispute with several other nations over the Spratly Islands, known as Nansha Islands in China. They are a group of more than 750 islands and reefs, lying on important commercial shipping lanes and believed to hold significant oil and gas reserves.

Beijing has been constructing artificial islands in the area, claiming sovereignty over the land and the 12-nautical-mile zone surrounding them.

Officials scramble to contain feuding MILF, MNLF factions

From the Philippine Star (Jan 3): Officials scramble to contain feuding MILF, MNLF factions

Investigators are still trying to determine the circumstances that led to the encounter

NORTH COTABATO, Philippines - Officials are scrambling to avert escalation of hostilities between factions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that figured in a deadly clash in Matalam town on Thursday.

The hostilities in Barangay Kidama west of Makilala town in North Cotabato left three MNLF members dead and displaced more than a hundred families.

Local officials on Sunday told The STAR they have started imposing measures to stave off a repeat of the incident, on the behest of North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza, chair of the provincial peace and order council.

Senior Inspector Sunny Leoncito, chief of the Matalam municipal police, identified the MNLF fatalities as Taya Akmad, Badrudin Ingkeg and a certain Marcial, who died from multiple gunshot wounds sustained when they traded shots with their MILF adversaries.

Investigators are still trying to determine the circumstances that led to the encounter.

Mendoza is optimistic the police, the Matalam local government unit and senior MNLF and MILF commanders can peacefully resolve the conflict.

Six houses of local peasants in the scene of the encounter have reportedly been set on fire too by gunmen as the gunfight ensued.

The provincial social welfare office had also been directed by Mendoza to help the Matalam LGU attend to the needs of evacuees.

Mendoza said efforts to address the dispute involving heavily armed groups in Barangay Kidama are being coordinated closely with the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee.

The government and MILF are bound by interim security agreements to mutually cooperate in addressing security problems in flashpoint areas in Southern Mindanao.