Friday, January 8, 2016

MILF: MILF receives agricultural equipment, support to transform camps into peaceful communities

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 7): MILF receives agricultural equipment, support to transform camps into peaceful communities

MILF receives agricultural equipment, support to transform camps into peaceful communities

The Department of Agriculture (DA) turned-over to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agricultural equipment, inputs and has also pledged capability-building training for farmer-beneficiaries aimed to transform six acknowledged MILF camps into peaceful communities.
Representatives from MILF camps formally received the equipment and farm inputs from Department of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala with Philippine government (GPH) peace panel member Senen Bacani at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on January 6.

The development intervention for the MILF communities is an initial confidence-building measure under the Bangsamoro peace process as stipulated in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed between the MILF and the Philippine government.
Camps Abubakar as-Siddique, Badre, and Omar ibn al-Khattab in Maguindanao; Camp Rajamuda in North Cotabato and Maguindanao; Camp Bilal in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur; and Camp Busrah Somiorang in Lanao del Sur are the target areas for the project implementation which is under the DA’s Farmer Assistance Program.
The beneficiaries, led by Camps Coordinator Mohamad Saleh, of MILF Task Force Camp Transformation, expressed gratitude to the assistance extended to their communities.
They received six (6) units of heavy-duty 90HP farm tractor with complete accessories; six (6) units of cassava grater; three (3) units of hand tractor; 1200 bags of palay seeds and fertilizer; and 1200 bags of OPV corn seeds and fertilizer.

Part of the support were 300 pieces of assorted rambutan, lanzones, jackfruit seedlings; and 300 pieces coffee, achuete, and guyabano seedlings and 18 carabaos.

Moreover, DA also gave certificates of commitment for the provision and delivery of 16 units of non-motorized bancas; 160 units of fish traps or "baliyat"; 12 modules of goats (one module is composed of 4 female goats and one male goat); 18 heads of cattle; 6 units of corn sheller; 6 units of corn mill.

Secretary Alcala said he would be happy to see bountiful harvest four months after and hoped that the program will be a key to lasting peace in the communities.

MILF peace panel member Melanio Ulama said the agricultural supports are the “evidences of long desired real peace and development for Mindanao.” MILF officials present during the program were Toks Ibrahim, MILF Administrative Chief and Mohamad Nasif, MILF General Staff for Operation, hoped and prayed that the initiative will be the start of more dividends of peace that people will enjoy.

Naoyuki Ochiai of Japan InternationaI Cooperation Agency, Inger Lia Staalesen from the Independent Decommissioning Body, and Mohamad Yacob, Bangsamoro Development Agency Executive Director also graced the event.

MILF: House Speaker Belmonte says no need for Plan B on BBL

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 7): House Speaker Belmonte says no need for Plan B on BBL

House Speaker Belmonte says no need for Plan B on BBL

The Speaker of the House of Representatives Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. issued a statement saying that Congress has no Plan B and determined to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as quoted in a report by Philippine Star yesterday.

This was the Speaker’s response on the recommendation by the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), an international independent body that tracks the progress of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) implementation, for the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to come up with Plan B should the proposed legislation will not be passed by Congress.
The CAB is a peace deal signed by the government and the MILF which provides the drafting of the BBL - a measure that will pave way for the establishment of the autonomous Bangsamoro political entity.

On December 22 last year, the TPMT, headed by Alistair MacDonald of European Union, wrote the government and MILF peace panels expressing concerns about the delays in the legislative process and the increasing likelihood that no BBL would be passed during the current Aquino administration.

Absence of quorum was the major cause of the delay in deliberation of BBL in the lower house last year.

However, the lawmakers were able to end the period of interpellation on the proposed legislation on the December 16 session before they adjourned for yuletide break.

On December 8, President Aquino met with the large number of Congressmen at Malacañang Palace renewing his call to the lawmakers to support the BBL. MacDonald described the President’s move as encouraging.

When Congress session resumes this month of January, the measure moves on to the period of amendments before it is put to vote for second reading.

The monitoring body expressed further concern on the BBL which may be adopted by Congress and the extent to which the law might be compliant to the CAB as well as its acceptability to the MILF and to the broader Bangsamoro community.

MacDonald said the TPMT’s main recommendation is for the two peace panels to continue and intensify efforts to promote the passage of CAB-compliant BBL.

NPA rebel surrenders in Zamboanga del Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 9): NPA rebel surrenders in Zamboanga del Norte

A New People’s Army (NPA) member surrendered to government authorities in the province of Zamboanga del Norte, the police reported Saturday.

Chief Inspector Rogelio Alabata, Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) information officer, identified the NPA surrenderee as Jan-Jan Lumulan alias Ka Jimmy of the NPA’s Front Committee Feliciano “A.”

Alabata said Lumulan surrendered to police and military authorities around 12:30 a.m. Friday in Barangay Bato, Sindangan.

He said Lumulan, who was accompanied by his mother, have surrendered following series of negotiations that started after he signified intention to surrender.

He said Lumulan was placed under the custody of the Sindangan Municipal Police Station for documentation.

Asean code due February

From The Standard (Jan 9): Asean code due February

THE elements of the much-delayed code of conduct between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be drawn up by next month, President Benigno Aquino III said on Friday.

Aquino said all claimants to the South China Sea have professed adherence to international law and a code of conduct is in conformity with international law.

“We are now moving forward from 2002. More pressure will be done on China. So can we just all sit down on this and come up with a binding code of conduct?,” Aquino told journalists after the inauguration of a power plant in Davao City.

“The goodwill of all nations is also important. We are hoping our brothers in China will be pragmatic. And benefits will be seen once the entitlements and obligations are all clear to them,” Aquino added.

Aquino made the remark a day after British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who was in the country Thursday, said any attempt to restrict air and sea travel in the disputed South China Sea would be viewed as a “red line.”

“Freedom of navigation and overflight are non-negotiable. They are red lines for us,” Hammond told a joint news conference with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

On Friday, Vietnam issued its second rebuke in a week to Beijing, accusing its northern neighbor of “threatening peace” after more Chinese aircraft landed on a contested reef in the South China Sea.

Chinese state media on Wednesday said two civilian planes landed on one of the islands in the Fiery Cross reef in the disputed Spratly Islands, which are claimed by Hanoi but controlled by Beijing.

The landings are “a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and threaten peace and stability in the region”, foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said in a statement issued late Thursday.

The two “test flights” Wednesday follow an initial aircraft landing on Saturday, which prompted the first formal diplomatic complaint from Hanoi.

The planes departed from and returned to the city of Haikou, the capital of the southern island province of Hainan—a two-hour journey each way.

The flights have raised alarm in the region and attracted criticism from the United States, with the Pentagon warning Thursday that the move would raise tensions in the disputed waters.

The Philippines has also said it would file a protest.

Binh said Vietnam has asked China “to immediately end similar acts... that expand and complicate disputes”.

China claims virtually all the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have partial claims.

China has asserted its claim by rapidly building artificial islands, including  airstrips said to be capable of hosting military jets.

Several other claimants, including Vietnam, have also built facilities on islands they control, but at a significantly slower pace and smaller scale.

AFP gives itself big pat on the back

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 8): AFP gives itself big pat on the back

ARMED Forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri yesterday declared that the military did well last year and said this year, it is facing bigger challenges, including the national and local elections in May.

“The year 2015 has been a memorable year for the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines…We made good on many of our goals,” said Iriberri during the joint DND-AFP traditional New Year’s call in Camp Aguinaldo.

Iriberri said the military made “great strides” in the implementation of its modernization program. New assets were delivered last year, including two FA-50 fighter jets from the Korea Aerospace Industries.

He said the AFP is determined to “continue to win the peace and protect the gains that have been made,” in keeping with the Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan which is the military’s blueprint in winning the peace, and which was launched in January 2011.

Iriberri also said the military is dedicating its “energies and efforts” to ensure a peaceful electoral exercise in May.

He warned soldiers against involvement in partisan political activity in the coming elections, saying they should be prepared for punishments if they do so.

Involvement in partisan political activity could mean separation from the service, said AFP spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla.

Iriberri said the military would also intensify operations against private armed groups which he said pose a threat to the peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections.

On defeating the communist insurgency at the end of the year in line with IPSP Bayanihan, Iriberri said, “That is our challenge.”

PH, US to hold ‘2+2’ meet

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 8): PH, US to hold ‘2+2’ meet

DEFENSE Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario will meet their US counterparts next week, with the South China Sea dispute as potential top agenda.

Gazmin said the “2 + 2” meeting with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and US Secretary of State John Kerry will take place on Tuesday in Washington.

“That’s my speculation, that might be one of the subject matters,” said Gazmin. He said he has yet to see the meeting’s agenda though the meeting had been planned long ago.

Gazmin said the passage of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the US military to preposition forces and assets in the Philippines, is a common concern for the two governments but did not say if the agreement will be discussed in the meeting.

The two governments signed EDCA in April 2014. It’s implementation was however put on hold, pending a Supreme Court decision on the petitions lodged by various groups on the constitutionality of the agreement.

Gazmin described as an “aggressive” act China’s recent test flight on its newly-established runway at the Fiery Cross Reef, one of the seven reefs in the South China Sea where the Chinese had conducted land reclamation.

Gazmin said it was early to judge the Aquino administration in its approach in the South China Sea dispute amid the test flight.

He asked the public to wait for the decision of the international arbitral court on the case lodged by government against China’s nine-dash-line claim.

In a separate interview also in Camp Aguinaldo, AFP Western Command chief Vice Adm. Alexander Lopez said China had completed land reclamation in four reefs, referring to Cuarteron, Gaven, Johnson South, and McKennan reefs.

Lopez said China’s land reclamations are still ongoing in three other reefs, namely Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs. He said the Chinese are still putting up “vertical” structures and facilities in the artificial islands.

At the Department of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said a diplomatic protest is being readied over two successive test flights undertaken by China over the Fiery Cross Reef.

Del Rosario and visiting British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond expressed concern over the “aggressive moves” of China to assert its military control over the West Philippine Sea.

“We are very concerned about the fact that China had already flown their flights to Fiery Cross Reef and we are also concerned that there are plans to do more,” Del Rosario said in a joint press conference with Hammond.

China has said its test flights would determine if the newly-built air strip adheres to civil aviation standards.

The aircraft took off from the Meilan Airport of Haikou, capital of Hainan Province, at 10:21 a.m. and landed at the airfield on Kagitingan Reef of the Kalayaan group of islands at 10:46 a.m. China calls the reef Yongshu Jiao.

Of General Intel Interest: South Korea seeks US strategic weapons after North’s nuke test

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 8): South Korea seeks US strategic weapons after North’s nuke test

South Korea is in talks with the United States to deploy US strategic weapons on the Korean peninsula, a South Korean military official said on Thursday, a day after North Korea said it successfully tested a hydrogen nuclear device.

South Korea also said it would resume propaganda broadcasts by loudspeaker into North Korea from Friday, which is likely to infuriate its isolated rival, in response to its fourth nuclear test.

The United States and weapons experts voiced doubts the device North Korea tested on Wednesday was a hydrogen bomb, but calls mounted for more sanctions against it for its rogue nuclear program.

The underground explosion angered China, which was not given prior notice although it is North Korea’s main ally, pointing to a strain in their ties.

The test also alarmed Japan. Its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, agreed with US President Barack Obama in a telephone call that a firm global response was needed, the White House said.

Obama also spoke to President Park Geun-hye of South Korea to discuss options.

A South Korean military official told Reuters the two countries had discussed the deployment of US strategic assets on the divided Korean peninsula, but declined to give further details.

After North Korea last tested a nuclear device, in 2013, Washington sent a pair of nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers on a sortie over South Korea in a show of force. At the time, North Korea responded by threatening a nuclear strike on the United States.

South Korea, technically in a state of war against the North, said it was not considering a nuclear deterrent of its own, despite calls from ruling party leaders. The United States is highly unlikely to restore the tactical nuclear missiles it removed from South Korea in 1991, experts said.

The test was a “grave violation” of an August agreement by the two Koreas to ease tension and improve ties, a South Korean national security official, Cho Tae-yong, said in a statement.

“Our military is at a state of full readiness, and if North Korea wages provocation, there will be firm punishment.”

The United States is limited in its military response for fear of provoking an unpredictable regime in Pyongyang, said Anthony Cordesman, a defense policy expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank.

57 Kalayaan protesters stranded in Palawan –spokesperson

From GMA News (Jan 7): 57 Kalayaan protesters stranded in Palawan –spokesperson

Fifty-seven youth volunteers who were part of the group that ventured into the Philippine-claimed Pag-asa island in the Spratlys were still stranded in Palawan due to financial reasons, their spokesperson said Thursday.

"May 57 volunteers pa po tayo na naiwan sa ating camp site sa Puerto Prinsesa, Barangay Buenavista, sa Palawan," said Mariel Ipan of the Kalayaan Atin Ito Movement in a phone interview with "News to Go."

Forty-seven members of the group returned to Palawan on Sunday after a week-long stay at Pag-asa island in the disputed territory.

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.

"Hanggang ngayon naghahagilap tayo ng mga kababayan natin na gustong tumulong para makauwi ang mga studyanteng ito sa mga probinsya nila," Ipan said.

Ipan said the volunteers were stranded because they did not have enough money to return to their homes.

The group is composed of youths from different provinces, including minors. Ipan said each member joined voluntarily, and that the minors had waiver forms signed by their parents.

Despite the challenges the group is now facing, Ipan believes that their protest raised awareness about the issue.

"Since nag-react yung China sa ginawa nating paglalayag, naniniwala kami na nakita at narinig ng buong mundo yung ginawa nating freedom voyage," Ipan said, referring to Beijing's statement that it was "strongly dissatisfied" by what the group did.

During their stay on the island, Ipan said that they witnessed a Chinese ship and helicopter patrolling the Pag-asa shore.

"Sana ma-realize ng bawat mamayan natin na kailangan na natin magkaisa dahil nasakop na po yung ibang teritoryo natin," Ipan added.

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.

Air Force man on vacation shot dead in Jolo

From GMA News (Jan 9): Air Force man on vacation shot dead in Jolo

An enlisted personnel of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) was shot dead outside a church in Jolo, Sulu on Friday afternoon.
Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, identified the victim as Andre Burias Nono, 27, assigned with the 15th Strike Wing based in Sangley Point, Cavite.
Arrojado said Nono, a native of Jolo, was on a holiday break.
He said Nono was shot dead at the back of the Jolo Church at around 5 p.m.
Joint police and military teams arrested the victim's shooters, who are suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

‘Bayanihan’ successful in curbing NPA threat, claims military chief

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 9): ‘Bayanihan’ successful in curbing NPA threat, claims military chief

The military’s Internal Peace and Security Program (IPSP) “Bayanihan” is proving very successful in curbing down the New People’s Army (NPA) threat.

This was stressed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri in yesterday’s command conference where operational commanders presented their assessments on the NPA threat.

“There’s no doubt that IPSP ‘Bayanihan’ has continued to show success in paving the way for the accomplishment, aim to attain peace. This has been made possible because of the support of (the) people,” he added.

Due to the effectiveness of IPSP “Bayanihan,” Iriberri said 64 provinces, in 2015, were declared peaceful and ready for further development.

He added that this only leaves 12 provinces where pockets of NPA bands are still operating, albeit heavily pursued, by government forces.

“That is our goal, that this year we will be able to declare the remaining 12 provinces (in the Davao and Caraga area) as peaceful and ready for further development,” the AFP chief said.

In the same vein, Iriberri said the AFP has cleared and dismantled 13 guerilla fronts nationwide and cleared 292 barangays of rebel presence.

“We have reduced NPA strength from 4,443 yearend of 2014, what we have now is only remaining NPA strength 3,926 (for 2015). We also neutralized, captured, arrested 31 top (rebel) personalities,” he pointed out.

“So basically, generally, we have really made great strides in the implementation of IPSP ‘Bayanihan,’” he added.

Gov’t training MILF to govern eyed Bangsamoro region — Noy

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 9): Gov’t training MILF to govern eyed Bangsamoro region — Noy

While the contentious issues in the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) have yet to be settled, the Aquino administration is grooming members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to lead the proposed Bangsamoro Political Entity that would stem from the passage of the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).

Optimistic that the BBL will be passed under his term, President Aquino, in a media interview in Davao City, yesterday said other than the Sajahatra program, that seeks to provide skills for former combatants from the MILF, the government is also training some of them to take on the leadership of the eyed region that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

He stressed the passage of the BBL will ensure the progress and development in Mindanao even after his term ends in June.

“Each time I speak about Mindanao, I mention how the goal for our administration is to transform it, from the Land of Promise, to the Land of Promises Fulfilled,” Aquino said.

“Over the past few years, we have seen the beginnings of this transformation,” he added.

According to the President, even before both sides drafted the BBL, “we have already started to show the benefits. The Sajahatra program provides skills to former combatants so they will become fruitful economic players.”

“There are also governance courses for a few members of the MILF so by the time they’re given mandate, they are ready. Now (responding) to non-passage (of the BLBAR) is as if you’re closing the possibility that it will be passed,” Aquino said, adding he will be meeting next week with members of the House of Representatives “precisely to push for the passage of the BBL.”

“Congressman Rufus Rodriguez tells me that they are almost complete with the ‘turno en contra’ stage and after that, they will be voting on it already. So we still have a good chance of passing the BBL,” Aquino said.

Congress is scheduled to resume its session on January 19 until February 5 and will go on a long break during the campaign period for the 2016 national and local elections.

Last month, Aquino met with members of the House of Representatives — even those in the opposition, in Malacañang and urged them to pass the proposed BBL.

But failure to form a quorum at the House and priorities in the Senate diverted the focus on the BLBAR.

Experts also have noted that railroading the BLBAR may hinder inclusion of safeguards in the bill that would protect the interest of the nation.

They noted that the BLBAR requires more time for study, specifically provisions that may lead to secession by a substate-like Bangsamoro Political Entity.

Both houses have to vote on it before remittance to Aquino and approval.

Suspected NPA members release 6 abducted civilians

From ABS-CBN (Jan 8): Suspected NPA members release 6 abducted civilians

COMPOSTELA VALLEY - Six civilians who were abducted by suspected members of the New People's Army (NPA) were set free Thursday night.

The family of the victims asked the help of the military to free the victims, who were abducted by armed men from their homes in Barangay Malamodao in Maco, Compostela Valley Tuesday night.

They added that the victims were blindfolded, tied, and forced to ride a motorcycle to an unknown destination.

The victims were released two days later.

Among those abducted were a minor and a pregnant woman.

The minor said the armed men did not hurt them. The woman, on the other hand, said they were only "reprimanded".

The 71st Infantry Battalion said members of the subregional guerilla unit of the NPA, under a certain Ka Marus, were responsible for the abduction.

The six victims will undergo a stress debriefing from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

MNLF members hold peace summit in Sulu

From ABS-CBN (Jan 9): MNLF members hold peace summit in Sulu

Hundreds of members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have convened in Indanan, Sulu to attend a peace summit spearheaded by founding chairman Nur Misuari.

The chairman of the MNLF Islamic Command Council, Habib Mudjahab Hashim said important matters will be discussed during the three-day peace summit, including the upcoming tripartite review of the 1996 Peace Agreement between the MNLF and the government of the Philippines.

Hashim said the government wants to put a closure on the contested provisions of the Peace Accord, which the MNLF believes has not been implemented even after the agreement was signed in 1996.

The MNLF also wants recognition from the government, pushing to include some of the provisions of the 1996 Peace Accord in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Hundreds of armed followers of Misuari joined the coordinated attacks in Zamboanga City in 2013, after failing to get the nod of the government to hear their pleadings.

Hundreds of lives were lost during the almost one-month hostility in Zamboanga City.

Hashim said the meeting in Sulu will tackle the desire of their group for independence in Mindanao.

He also said they have no options left, since the government does not want to recognize their alternative pleading to create a separate autonomous region solely for the MNLF.

The provinces will include those areas outside the proposed Bangsamoro.

Hashim said the group of Hadji Ebrahim Murad of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) might forge an alliance with their group to push for a united and independent Mindanao.

Meanwhile, police and military forces in Zamboanga City have intensified the security in most of the entry and exit points in the city after some residents started to express concern over the presence of MNLF members in Zamboanga City.

In the village of Baliwasan, policemen invited seven members of MNLF for questioning.

According to Faizer Serna, one of the officers of the MNLF based in Central Mindanao, they decided to stay in Zamboanga City due to budget constraints. 

Other officials, however, went to Sulu to attend the peace summit.

He added that they came to Zamboanga City unarmed and without any bad intentions.

Serna said their group did not participate in the 2013 Zamboanga siege, but they do understand why the residents of Zamboanga City are reacting negatively to their presence.

Policemen escorted Serna and his group to the village of Recodo, where they could stay with their relatives while waiting for their officials to arrive from the peace summit in Sulu.

PAF enlisted personnel shot dead in Sulu

From ABS-CBN (Jan 9): PAF enlisted personnel shot dead in Sulu

An enlisted personnel of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) was killed in a shooting incident in Jolo, Sulu on Friday, authorities said.

The victim, identified as 27-year-old Andrew Burias Nono, was shot dead at the back portion of the Jolo Church at around 5 p.m. by unidentified suspects.

Nono, who was assigned at the 15th Strike Wing based in Sangley Point, Cavite, was on holiday break.

Responding police and members of the Jolo Internal Defense Force (JIDF) rushed Nono to the Sulu Provincial Hospital, but he was declared dead on arrival.

Government forces also conducted pursuit operations against the suspects.

Cafgu member killed in NPA attack in Camarines Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 7): Cafgu member killed in NPA attack in Camarines Sur

Major Angelo Guzman, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command (Solcom), said Jaime Rabino, a member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu), was attending a fiesta dance party in his village, Barangay Sagrada, at around 1 a.m. when four armed men approached and shot him at close range.

Guzman said the victim died on the spot. After the shooting, the suspects fled on foot towards the mountainous area.

Guzman said Solcom was saddened by Rabino’s killing as Cafgu members, like soldiers, spend most of their time away from their families and only get to go home on certain occasions.

“This was the only time they have to spend with their families and loved ones after rendering service to the communities,” Guzman said in a statement.

He said Army soldiers were dispatched to track down the rebels.

UK warns of ‘red line’ at sea

From The Standard (Jan 8): UK warns of ‘red line’ at sea

WHILE the United Kingdom remains neutral in any maritime dispute over the South China Sea, London has a clear and non-negotiable position on freedom of navigation and overflights, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.

“We have a clear position on freedom of navigation and overflights. Freedom of navigation and overflights are non-negotiable. They are red lines for us,” Hammond told reporters after holding bilateral talks with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

“We will maintain the position that we, as an international maritime and trading nation, enjoy freedom of navigation and overflights in the South China Sea. We expect to continue to exercise those rights,” Hammond said in a joint press briefing with Del Rosario.

Crossing the red line. President Benigno Aquino III receives United Kingdom Ambassador Asif Ahmad and UK Foreign Minister Philip Hammond at the Music Room of Malacañan Palace on Thursday. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

Hammond said they also discussed the strategic partnership between the UK and the Philippines in the middle of the global and regional challenges threatening security and prosperity, including global efforts to tackle extremism.

Del Rosario, for his part, said the Philippine government fears that China’s landings and test flights in an artificial island in the South China Sea could lead to a military defense zone if left unchallenged.

“We are very concerned about the fact that China had already flown their flights to Fiery Cross Reef and we are also concerned that there are plans to do more,” Del Rosario said.

“If this is not challenged, China will take the position that the ADIZ could be imposed and whether this is done in terms of a de facto basis or whether it is official, this will deemed as unacceptable to us,” Del Rosario said.

China said it landed three planes over Fiery Cross Reef in recent days, prompting protests from rival claimants Vietnam and the Philippines, and raising fears it could impose military controls in the area.

Hammond, whose Manila visit followed a trip to China, did not elaborate on what action would be taken if the “red flag” was raised, other than to say Britain would continue to assert its right to sail in the area.

Del Rosario said he was worried that, with the test flights, China was laying the groundwork for the declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), similar to the one it declared in the East China Sea that riled Japan.

Vietnam, another claimant in the South China Sea, has also condemned the test flights as a violation of its sovereignty.

China has alarmed its rivals with its massive reclamation and construction of facilities on disputed reefs, including a 3,000-meter (9,842-foot) runway on Fiery Cross, around 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the southern province of Hainan.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Saturday after announcing the first test flight that it was “civilian” in nature.

The Philippines has asked a United Nations-backed tribunal to void China’s claim over almost the entire South China Sea. It expects a decision this year.

China did not participate in the arbitration hearings at The Hague as it maintained that sea disputes should be resolved bilaterally.

“Win or lose, we will abide by the rule of law and we expect China to do the same,” Del Rosario said.

Hammond said Britain would not take sides on the dispute but appealed to claimants to resolve their differences under international law.

“We recognize the tribunal and we will recognize the decision of the tribunal,” Hammond said.

Govt surprised by MNLF muster

From The Standard (Jan 9): Govt surprised by MNLF muster

THOUSANDS of armed Moro National Liberation Front fighters and affiliated groups massed up at Indanan, Sulu,  Friday, taking government troops by surprise, and leading them to take up positions against a possible attack.

The military put its forces in Zamboanga City on high alert to prevent the repeat of the bloody fighting in the city on Sept. 8, 2013 that claimed the lives of more than 100 people including soldiers, MNLF rebels and civilians after nearly a month of bloody skirmishes.

                               MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari

The MNLF rebels swooped down on Astana, in Indanan, Sulu bearing independent state flags for the start of the two-days National Parliament and General Assembly conference in the province.

The meeting was based on the orders of MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari, Misuari’s directive was issued by Murshi Ibrahim, MNLF secretary general through a memorandum.

MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza said that the meeting was preparatory for the upcoming Islamic Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting.

“The assembly is in preparation for Misuari’s attendance to the IPU meeting later this year in an Islamic country that at present is still unknown,” Cerveza said.

He also said that several items would be tackled during the general assembly but declined to give any details

The massing up of MNLF forces drew criticism from Zamboanga City Mayor Bing Climaco.

“Why is the government allowing Misuari to roam free, when in fact he has a warrant of arrest?”

Misuari is facing rebellion case after hundreds of armed followers stormed Zamboanga City displacing thousand of inhabitants.

Climaco said the rebels were crossing the city on their way to Indanan.

The military and police escorted the Sulu-bound MNLF rebels to ensure that they would not take up arms in the city, Climaco said.

On Sept. 8, 2013, the MNLF forces also massed-up at the coastal areas in Zamboanga City, which led to MNLF’s staging of attacks and occupation of key installations and residential buildings barely weeks after Misuari declared Mindanao independence that sparked bloody fighting with government forces.

Misuari was disgusted after the government entered peace negotiation with its rival faction Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Abu Sayyaf’s Canadian hostage ill, as group flees military offensive

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 9): Abu Sayyaf’s Canadian hostage ill, as group flees military offensive

One of the three foreign hostages of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu is suffering from illness and is only being carried by his captors as they seek to evade an ongoing military offensive.

A senior Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader revealed this yesterday, saying he got the information from a relative of one of the ASG leaders holding the hostages.
He identified the sick hostage as Canadian John Ridsel, said to be at least 60 years old.
“Abu Sayyaf members are only carrying him (Ridsel) because he has difficulty in walking due to his sickness,” the MNLF leader said.
Being potential sources of money, he said the gunmen are taking care of their captives but the conditions in the jungles of the province are just too much for  the sick hostage. “Throw in the offensive, and you will get the idea,” he said.
The informant did not give details on the Canadian’s affliction.
The MNLF leader said the ASG is now constantly on the move to escape the military operations. He said they are led by ASG sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan and are now in an area of Patikul municipality.

AFP aims to ‘win’ peace in 2016

From the Manila Times (Jan 7): AFP aims to ‘win’ peace in 2016

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is poised to intensify operations against all threat groups, particularly the communist New People’s Army (NPA), even as it seeks to “win” peace this year.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday said in the remaining days of the Aquino Administration, one of the goals of the military is full implementation of Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) or Oplan (Operation Plan) Bayanihan, which is strongly opposed by leftist organizations describing it a “grand psywar scheme and continuing violence against the people.”

“Yung ating IPSP Bayanihan kailangang ipagpatuloy natin upang sa ganun ay ma-accomplish natin yung mission nating talunin na yung mga threats sa security ng gobyerno [We need to continue our IPSP Bayanihan so that we can accomplish our mission to defeat the threats to the security of the government],” Gazmin told reporters after the traditional New Year’s call at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City (Metro Manila).

Gen. Hernando Iriberri, AFP chief of staff, said the main mission of the operation plan is to win peace.

“So I just wanted to emphasize that by 2016 because based on the timeline of IPSP Bayanihan, we must win the peace, that’s the timeline of IPSP Bayanihan by the end of 2016, we must be able to declare the entire country as peaceful,” he added.

The AFP, Iriberri said, is trying its best to accomplish the mission.

The AFP chief disclosed that a command conference was scheduled from Friday to assess and evaluate the military’s performance and find out if there is a need to make adjustments.

“If we need to make some adjustments, we will make adjustments. But we will try our best and that will be my challenge to all our ground commanders, to attain our goals and it has been there since 2010 when, as I said, when IPSP Bayanihan was crafted, it was a self-imposed goal with the Armed Forces and it is incumbent upon us to give our best, to do our best to attain that goal, and that is our challenge,” he said.

AFP targets to liberate all provinces from NPA insurgency this 2016

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 8): AFP targets to liberate all provinces from NPA insurgency this 2016

The military has expressed confidence it could achieve its target to win peace this year by liberating all provinces in the country from the decades-old communist insurgency.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri announced that the government’s Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) “Bayanihan” continues to gain success, paving the way for the clearing of additional provinces from the New People’s Army (NPA).

High-powered firearms are neatly laid out on a table at the municipal gym in Lianga, Surigao del Sur Tuesday, representing the erstwhile firepower carried by 35 NPA fighters from Northeastern Mindanao who surrendered to the government recently. The rebel returnees received cash assistance in line with the AFP Balik Baril, Bayad Agad Program. (Mike U. Crismundo)
High-powered firearms are neatly laid out on a table at the municipal gym in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, representing the erstwhile firepower carried by 35 NPA fighters from Northeastern Mindanao who surrendered to the government recently. The rebel returnees received cash assistance in line with the AFP Balik Baril, Bayad Agad Program. (August 2015/MB file)

Iriberri made the statement in a press conference that followed the AFP’s first command conference in 2016 attended by all military commanders on Friday, January 8.

Citing data presented during the meeting, the top military chief said that the government has already declared 64 provinces as peaceful and ready for further development after being cleared from the influence of communist guerrillas.
He added that they are now working to clear the remaining 12 provinces, mostly located in the Davao CARAGA regions.

“That is our goal, that this year we will be able to declare the remaining 12 provinces to be declared as peaceful and ready for further development,” he stated.

“So generally, we have really made great strides in the implementation of IPSP Bayanihan,” according to the AFP chief.

The IPSP Bayanihan, the military’s counter-insurgency plan and which also included all threat groups, was conceived under the term of President Aquino with the end goal of defeating the rebels before his term ends next year.

There is an urgency for the government to end the insurgency problem so that if could fully focus its attention to territorial defense, whose center is fending off China’s aggressiveness in the West Philippine Sea.

Aside from the 64 provinces that have been liberated from the NPA, Iriberri also said that the government has also cleared and dismantled 13 guerilla fronts nationwide which has translated into 292 barangays influenced or controlled by the NPA.

He further said that the NPA strength was reduced from 4,443 yearend of 2014 to 3,296 by end of 2015.

Also, a total of 31 top NPA personalities have also been neutralized, captured, arrested during the previous year.

He likewise was a huge decline in violent incidents perpetrated by the NPA.

“In fact, based on the reports, there was no major tactical offensive that was conducted by NPA during the year, and that speaks volumes because it reflects on their capability to conduct . . . major tactical offensive against AFP. We have not recorded a major tactical offensive in the past year,” said Iriberri underscoring the accomplishment of the military.

He stressed that the inability of the NPA to stage major tactical offensive reflects reflect on the communist rebels’ dwindling support, as well as, dwindling forces.

As to the other threat groups like the Abu Sayyaf Group, the chief of staff said they have also reduce its membership, although he could not give figures.

The ASG has resurrected its kidnapping activities late last year by taking in a number of foreigners, including the two Canadians and a Norwegian from a resort in Davao del Norte, whom it took to Sulu for ransom negotiations.

As to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF), it has an existing preliminary peace agreement with the government.

Editorial: Stopping the permit-to-campaign, how?

From the Mindanao Times (Jan 7): EDITORIAL| Stopping the permit-to-campaign, how?

GIVING in to the demand of the New People’s Army for a permit to campaign in the hinterlands where they hold political sway is giving rebels the power to bring down the government. This is the gist of the message of Maj. Gen. Rafael Valencia, commander of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, during a press conference yesterday.
In a previous forum, Valencia said that documents recovered by the military show the collection scheme of the NPAs permit-to-campaign to local politicians in the Davao region. This could easily amass the rebels millions of pesos to fund their movement, the military believes.
To back this warning, the Commission on Election warned the candidates that this can be a cause for disqualification under the Elections Code. Atty. Marlon Casquejo, Deputy Regional Director for Comelec XI, said this can fall under giving of donations and cash gifts to bolster their chances of winning in the area.
Sec. 104 of the Omnibus Election Code states that: “No candidate, his or her spouse or any relative within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, or his campaign manager, agent or representative shall during the campaign period, on the day before and on the day of the election, directly or indirectly, make any donation, contribution or gift in cash or in kind…”

The website www.lente on election offenses, said the term “contribution” includes gift, donation, subscription, loan, advance or deposit of money or anything of value, or a contract, promise or agreement to contribute, whether or not legally enforceable, made for the purpose of influencing the results of elections. This also includes the use of facilities voluntarily donated by other persons, the money value of which can be assessed based on the rates prevailing in the area.

Casquejo also said those who were found to be paying the permit to campaign could face imprisonment.  Permit to campaign fees has been around for the past elections. It will requires swift action on those who are caught violating the code for candidates to refrain from paying the rebels.

Recidivist soldier

From the Mindanao Times (Jan 8): Recidivist soldier

Suspect tagged in carnapping alleged fired gun at ambulance

A SOLDIER, tagged in carnapping in Davao City in December 2014, is facing another criminal charge after he fired at an ambulance in Digos City at 2 a.m. yesterday.
Ambulance driver Wilfredo M. Romero, 44, resident of Chapter 1 in Barangay Aplaya in Digos reported to Ulas sub-police station and identified Staff Sgt. Jurito Ante Teja, 48, resident of Panacan in Davao City as the one who attacked them.
According to the report, Teja was seated on the passenger seat of the Hi-Ace van with no plate heading toward Davao City when the ambulance—its sirens blaring as it was carrying a patient inside–passed by their vehicle at around 1:20 a.m.
The driver then recalled that the soldier fired his gun at them from behind. He didn’t report the incident ot the police first since he was ferrying a patient in an emergency situation.
After receiving the report, personnel of the Talomo Police Precinct then conducted checkpoint at UM Matina area. They were able to flag down Teja with his companion on board the same van around 2 a.m.
Police seized from his possession a .45 caliber pistol with serial number 1213578 with two magazines loaded with six bullets and other magazine loaded with five bullets.
Upon verification he failed to prevent pertinent documents of the gun. The suspect is now detained in Talomo police.
Chief Insp. Alfredo Santillana, commander of Talomo Police precinct ,said in an interview that they have filed a  case against the soldier in violation of RA 10591 or “Illegal possession of Firearm.”
“We will also investigate the van that they used because someone might have reported it as being carnapped so we could add that to the charge,” Santillana said.
Apparently, a carnapping charge was filed againts the suspect in December 2014. He was while he was assigned to the CMO Iligan City while the case is being investigated.
Teja and alleged National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents were caught on a closed circuit television (CCTV) camera stealing three vehicles from a shop in Bago Aplaya together with other three suspects on Dec. 9, 2014.
Arrested were Lindsey Jay Villarin Valdez alias Jay, 35, married, self-employed and a resident of Matina Aplaya; Romulo Estrada Patente alias Dava, 42, married, self-employed, resident of Bangkal and currently residing at Ladian, Marahan; and Randy Pogoy Pasco, 36, married, self-employed and a resident of SIR Matina.
The suspects were identified by the Talomo Police through a CCTV footage taken during the incident.
The same footage showed Ante, a member of Philippine Army Civil Relationship Group in Panacan, who apparently led the illegal activity together with alleged members of the NBI identified as alias Toto Balboa and Joel Ferelino, and other unidentified companions.
They allegedly stole a satin silver Honda Fit, a blue Honda Fit, and white Toyota BB, all bearing temporary plate numbers and all registered under the name of one Evelyn Q. Amad.
Police recovered the blue Honda Fit from the shop of Maximiano Fernandez Subior alias Pulong at Purok Lizada, Dacudao in Daliao, Toril. The vehicle was allegedly brought by alias Gilbert Jimenez, while the satin silver Honda Fit and the white Toyota BB vehicle were recovered from the shop of Eltagonde Barilla alias Tata at Juario Compound in Ma-a.

Attacks on transmission towers endanger power supply in NorMin

From MindaNews (Jan 8): Attacks on transmission towers endanger power supply in NorMin

Northern Mindanao would be most affected if the Mindanao grid collapses due to the bombings of power transmission towers, the Department of Energy said Friday.

Energy Secretary Zanaida Monsada said Northern Mindanao would be cut off from its energy supply from the Agus hydro plants but Southern Mindanao would be unaffected as the 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant of Therma Marine South has been commissioned.

“This will be the scenario we will be facing if the bombing of transmission towers will continue unabated,” Monsada told reporters during the inauguration of the coal plant today.

She said the government recognized the gravity of the situation and has created a task force composed of units from the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police to deal with recalcitrant landowners.

Reports said the suspects in the bombings are owners of lands where the transmission towers pass through, and who are demanding payments from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines.

President Benigno Aquino III inaugurated the coal plant  in Barangay Binugao, Toril District, Davao City, which is expected to boost the power supply in southern Mindanao and if distribution is not affected, throughout the island.

“This plant’s dependable capacity is roughly equivalent to one-fifth of the Mindanao grid’s highest peak demand in 2015—and it is already delivering power to areas at the end of the grid, such as Sarangani, General Santos, and the Zamboanga peninsula,” Aquino said.

He said his government is studying how to meet the demands of the landowners.

The NGCP placed the entire Mindanao grid on yellow alert again the other day after bombing attacks against its towers in Lanao del Sur continued.

“ROW (right of way) violations, along with bombing attacks, have become the significant problems for NGCP in Mindanao. It will be very difficult for us to deliver the available power supply to distribution utilities if we continue to encounter these problems,” the NGCP said in a statement.

Monsada said President Aquino has directed agencies how to respond to the demands of the landowners.

China plane landings in South China Sea raise tensions: US

Posted to ABS-CBN (Jan 8): China plane landings in South China Sea raise tensions: US

The runway at the Fiery Cross Reef, one of three China was constructing on artificial islands built up from seven reefs and atolls in the Spratlys archipelago, is shown in this IHS Jane's Satellite Imagery Analysis handout image released on January 4, 2016. Reuters

China's recent landing of aircraft on a contested reef in the South China Sea is raising tensions and promoting instability in the region, the Pentagon warned Thursday.

A Department of Defense spokesman said three civilian flights are now believed to have landed on one of the islands, corroborating Chinese state media reports that three civilian aircraft have landed on Fiery Cross reef in the disputed Spratlys island group.

"We clearly are concerned by these flights... and we're concerned by all of these activities being conducted by the Chinese in disputed islands in the South China Sea," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters.

"Anything being done by any country to try and raise tensions over these disputed islands, and to try and militarize or engage in reclamation activities in these islands, we think only adds to instability in the South China Sea."

China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have partial claims.

China has asserted its claim by rapidly building artificial islands, including airstrips said to be capable of hosting military jets.

"We call for a diplomatic resolution to these issues in the South China Sea and certainly these flights do nothing to foster further stability and understanding in that part of the world," Cook said.

China's initial aircraft landing on Saturday prompted a formal diplomatic complaint from Hanoi, which labelled it a violation of sovereignty.

The Philippines also said it would file a protest.

Army, soldiers deployed in North Cotabato town after MILF infighting

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 8): Army, soldiers deployed in North Cotabato town after MILF infighting

To avoid the escalation of armed hostilities involving Moro rebels in North Cotabato’s Pikit town, Army and police forces have been deployed to serve as peackeepers, officials said Friday.

Chief Inspector Sindatu Karim, Pikit town police chief said in an interview that soldiers from the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade were deployed Thursday along with the police near the village of Talitay.

”They are there to secure the civilians and not to fight the rebels,” Karim told reporters after two commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) traded bullets at grenades due to “rido” or family feud.

In helping contain the flame standing in between warring MILF commanders in his area of operation, Maj. Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan, 6th Infantry Division commander, has standing directive to all Army units under the 6th ID not to engage warring Muslim families but secure civilians in the event infighting occurs.

Clan wars, locally known as “rido,” are common in communities in Maguindanao, including infighting among forces of the MILF, the biggest rebel movement that entered into a peace agreement with the government in 2014.

Von Al Haq, speaking for the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, said the MILF central committee has already sent emissaries to patch up the differences between Commanders Mantol and Commander Andoy.

More than 300 families or 1,800 individuals, have deserted the village of Talitay, an interior community of Pikit, after MILF commander Bhuto Mantol launched offensives against the followers of MILF Commanders Mokammad Andoy and Ricky Husain on Thursday dawn.

At the break of dawn Thursday, civilians with their valuables and work animals had an exodus to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

Sadly, the civilians suffer the most in armed conflict not of thier own making in Pikit.

Karim said Commanders Andoy and Hussain allegedly refused to surrender to police authorities in Kabacan, North Cotabato one of his men suspected of killing Commander Mantol’s brother in Barangay Kayaga, Kabacan, North Cotabato.

Karim said the infighting broke out few kilometers from Camp Rajamuda, a government recognized MILF areas and one of the biggest MILF camps in North Cotabato.

Tahira Kalantongan, Pikit Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer, said the evacuees fled to nearby Barangays Inug-og, Rajamuda and Gli-Gli, also in Pikit.

Police and military authorities are hoping the MILF emissaries could bring the warring MILF leaders to the negotiating table so the displaced families could return home.

The skirmishes in Pikit came two days after unidentified armed men ambushed and killed Village chairperson Pecson Mangansakan of Barangay Silik, Pikit, North Cotabato.

But Karim said the murder of Mangansakan was not related to the MILF infighting.

President Aquino pays tribute to former U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 7): President Aquino pays tribute to former U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth

President Benigno S. Aquino III has extended his condolences to the family and loved ones of former United States ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Bosworth, recognizing his contribution to the restoration of democracy in the country.

"It is with a deep sense of loss that I pay tribute to former Ambassador Stephen W. Bosworth, a man who was not only an able and honorable envoy of his country, but a man who proved to be an enduring friend of the Filipino people and our democratic way of life," the President said in a statement issued on Thursday.

The Chief Executive said his mother, former President Corazon Aquino, found Bosworth to be a diplomat “who went above and beyond the call of duty to understand and support the aspirations of the Filipino people.”

As US ambassador to the Philippines from 1984 to 1987, Bosworth made it possible for his fellow American citizens and the rest of the world to see the true condition of the Philippines while actively engaging former President Ferdinand Marcos to help him realize the consequences of his administration’s actions, the President said.

"At the most crucial moments, Ambassador Bosworth served as an active broker and advocate, one who truly contributed to the reclamation of our liberty," he noted.

"Through his unwavering commitment to our shared values, he earned the trust and confidence of a nation yearning to breathe free."

President Aquino further recalled that even after the envoy’s tenure in the Philippines, Bosworth, along with other partners at the US-Philippines Society, remained supportive of and interested in the continued progress of the Philippines towards making democracy work for all.

He also recounted a “memorable engagement” with Bosworth when he had the opportunity to interact with the former US ambassador during his visit to the United States in September 2014.

"The Philippines has always been fortunate in having such friends abroad. I am certain that he would have welcomed the 30th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution next month," he said.

"His passing is a reminder that the freedom we regained to the acclamation and admiration of the world is a gift that a new generation of Filipinos must carefully nurture, protect, and even expand."

Bosworth died in Boston, Massachusetts last Sunday at the age of 76.

Aside from being posted in the Philippines, he also served as ambassador to Tunisia (1979-1981) and the Republic of Korea (1997-2001), and as special representative for North Korea Policy for the Obama Administration (2009-2011).

Filipinos can now be proud of their defense forces - Gazmin

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 8): Filipinos can now be proud of their defense forces - Gazmin

With military modernization in full swing, Filipinos now have a defense force they can be proud of.

"All the obstacles we hurdled together, all the issues we faced as one team, all the challenges we confronted as a unified force, and together with the full trust and confidence of our Commander-in-Chief, has led us to a leap in our defense capabilities, today, a defense force that the nation can be proud of," Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.

He was referring to the acquisition of many new assets for the Armed Forces of the Philippines which include the South Korean-made FA-50PHs, AgustaWestland attack AW-109E helicopters, Bell 205 combat utility helicopters, Airbus Military C-295 transport aircraft, new M-4 rifles and refurbished armored personnel carriers from the US.

Having these assets on hand will greatly enhance the capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to defend and protect the country's vast territories.

But Gazmin said these equipment is but a glimpse of a department focused on its mandate.

"2016 will bring forth new challenges, and we will continue to meet these challenges. As guardians of democracy, we must remain apolitical and dedicated to our mandate, as it is the price we pay for our sworn duty," he said.

Gazmin added the Department of National Defense is resolved to continue building on its previous accomplishments and work for the professionalization of all its bureau, agencies, units and offices.

AFP coordinates with NGCP on tower security

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 8): AFP coordinates with NGCP on tower security

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced that it is now coordinating its security patrols with the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines in a bid to foil bombing attacks against NGCP transmission towers by lawless groups.

This was stressed by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri Tuesday during the sidelights of the military's New Year's call tradition.

"We have coordinated with the NGCP about the security (of our) transmission towers. (Securing them) is a major concern because people's livelihood (are affected whenever a NGCP tower is downed or damaged in an attack," he added.

He declined to comment on what security measures as this is an operational matter.

"We are helping them secure (the towers) and we are trying our best to ensure that no towers will be attacked and bombed (this year)," Iriberri added.

Around 16 NGCP towers were attacked by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other lawless elements last year, resulting to power loss in Central Mindanao.

Extortion attempts are the primary reason for the attack against the NGCP installations.

AFP determined to safeguard May 2016 elections

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 8): AFP determined to safeguard May 2016 elections

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is determined to safeguard the May 2016 national and local elections.

“We are determined to win the peace and protect the gains. Dedicate our energies and efforts to ensure a peaceful electoral exercise and we must sustain the momentum of transformation and innovation," AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri said.

"Our record is solid, our hopes are high and our force is strong. Let peace be our battle cry, let peace be our reward," he added.

In the same vein, the AFP chief also reminded all officers and enlisted personnel to remain apolitical in the coming electoral exercises, adding that their role is to secure the country against threats, not interject opinions about the elections.

Iriberri's message is in line with Department of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin's request to all active-duty officers and enlisted personnel to remain neutral in the coming polls.

"2016 will bring forth new challenges, and we will continue to meet these challenges. As guardians of democracy, we must remain apolitical and dedicated to our mandate, as it is the price we pay for our sworn duty," he said.

AFP ready to evacuate OFWs in Middle East

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 8): AFP ready to evacuate OFWs in Middle East

With Saudi and Iranian relations at an all-time low with the execution of top Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr last Jan. 2, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri said the military is more than ready to evacuate overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) if directed by government.

"We are just waiting on what directive the government will give us," he added.

There are over one million OFWs in the Middle East.

Iriberri said the AFP has the capability to evacuate Filipino workers in the Middle East thanks to its Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" cargo planes and brand-new Airbus Military C-295 medium transport aircraft.

"If there is a need to use that to transport our OFWs then we will be more than glad to provide mobility assets if directed," he added.