Sunday, February 14, 2016

President Aquino vows to keep PHL's stand on peace process in his US trip

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 15): President Aquino vows to keep PHL's stand on peace process in his US trip

President Benigno S. Aquino III has vowed to further solidify the Philippines' stand for the peace process during his attendance in the two-day ASEAN-US Leaders' Summit in the United States this week.

The Summit, to be held in Sunnylands, California, aims to strengthen the cooperation among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the US.

In his departure speech on Monday, the Chief Executive said that in his last attendance in the Summit as President, he will be sharing again his resolve for the peace process, which is the country's contribution on the issue of extremism and lack of stability.

"Naudlot man ang panukalang Bangsamoro Basic Law sa ating Kongreso, di nagbabago ang ating posisyon ukol sa BBL: Ito pa rin ang pinakatamang landas tungo sa kapayapaan at kaunlaran para sa Mindanao," he said.

Approval of the proposed BBL has faced difficulties in both houses of Congress. The Senate cannot move for its approval without the House of Representatives' prior thumbs up.

The 16th Congress has until June 30 to approve the measure but with sessions currently on recess and will resume only on May 23, some lawmakers have cast doubts on the BBL's success within the current administration.

Meanwhile, President Aquino is also scheduled to speak before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council (LAWAC), which he said is an honor since his father, former Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr., also served as its speaker in 1981.

He is also set to meet with representatives of Disney, and with this the Chief Executive is very optimistic on its impact on the country's economy in the future.

"Ang mensahe nga natin sa lahat ng negosyanteng nakakausap natin: Sulit na sulit na ngayong tumaya sa Pilipino; sama-sama nating itulak pa ang malaking pagbabago sa ekonomiya at kalakhang bansa," he said.

The President is scheduled to return to the country on Friday.

MILF: Editorial -- BBL is not dead

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Feb 15): Editorial -- BBL is not dead

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is not dead --- and will never die, contrary to what Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile said recently. Or to say the least, the fundamental elements of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) will not die. They are the heart and soul of the struggle of the Moros for right to self-determination. No law or not anyone can extinguish them. We will continue to assert them and tell government not to continue to renege on their obligations contained in signed agreements.

It is unfortunate or fortunate that Enrile would not be around to continue to deny Moros their fair share of powers and resources in a genuine autonomous entity. He is already too old and would no longer be part of the next Senate.  We do not know whether he can still be made accountable for his bloody role during Martial Law where thousands upon thousands of Moros died in series of massacres. He was then martial law administrator and subsequently defence secretary. His hands are full of Moro blood!

We thought that even for the last remaining few years of his life, he would temper his thesis that Moros, if given the opportunity, would secede from this country. It is an outdated idea that does not fare well in the 21st century or in matured democracies such as in Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, and Finland. But it seems he never changed.

Is his idea more to secure this country from dismemberment or something innate? It is a fact that he was the only senator who wanted to continue interpellating Senator Bong Bong Marcos, who is the main sponsor of the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR).

Former President Fidel Ramos was also part of the Martial Law infrastructure. But he had the courage --- and openness --- to sign the GRP-MNLF Final Agreement of 1996 and granted autonomy, no matter how limited, to the Moros. Indeed, it is a prelude to greatness or already greatness itself.

In spite of all these, we still do not burn our bridges completely with Enrile.  In fact, many Moro voters voted for his son when he ran for the Senate in 2010. It is not our policy to burn bridges with anyone or group. If we cannot agree on certain matters, we just leave them that way. Man has the capacity to change or not to change. Let history handles them.

US: We’ll use only PH bases under Edca

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 15): US: We’ll use only PH bases under Edca

 Admiral Harry Harris, Jr,  US Pacific Command chief, briefs Southeast Asian journalists about the US forces' engagements in the Pacific.  Photo by Nina Calleja

Admiral Harry Harris Jr., US Pacific Command chief, briefs Southeast Asian journalists about the US forces’ engagements in the Pacific. Photo by Nina Calleja

CAMP H.M. SMITH, Honolulu—The United States has no plans of building American military bases in the Philippines even with the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) between the two countries, according to the commander of US forces in the Pacific.

“[The Edca] is an agreement between the US and [the] Philippines [that] will allow us to use some Philippine bases and allow us to improve infrastructure at those bases. It is not about [establishing] new American bases, it is about using Philippine bases,” Adm. Harry Harris Jr., chief of the US Pacific Command (Pacom), told reporters at a recent briefing here.


“This will help the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but it will also help us. It is for our mutual benefit,” Harris said.

Last month, Philippine military officials said that five military airfields, two naval bases and a jungle training camp had been offered to the United States. These were Basa Air Base in Pampanga province, Camp Antonio Bautista and a naval base in Palawan province, Clark Air Base in Pampanga, and Lumbia Airfield in Cagayan de Oro City.

“Infrastructure improvements to Philippine bases would enhance support capabilities for a rotational presence of US forces and assets,” US Air Force Capt. Cody Chiles, spokesperson for Pacom, said when asked for details of the improvements plan.

Importance of Asean

In a presentation to journalists ahead of US President Barack Obama’s meeting with the leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Nations (Asean) at Rancho Mirage, in Sunnylands Estate in California, Harris explained why the South China Sea and Asean, including the Philippines, were important to the United States.

“Southeast Asia is at the heart of the Asia-Pacific region and is the central pillar to [the] US rebalance to the Pacific,” Harris said, referring to Obama’s strategy of shifting the US defense focus from the Middle East to Asia.

“The leadership of Asean as a whole is key to the rules-based international order in the whole region,” he said, explaining why the United States continues to strengthen its defense ties with Asia-Pacific countries, five of which—the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Australia—are already its treaty allies.

The United States carries out annual joint military maneuvers with those countries, exercises that Harris called “investments for a reason.”

“They improve our interoperability. They improve our relationships. And they improve our readiness,” he explained.

Challenges for US

The United States faces challenges in the region, Harris said.

“We see an assertive China, a resurging Russia. There is a thousand miles of Russian coastline in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes strategic nuclear and submarine bases,” he said.

“There is a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, that is North Korea, although five countries in Asia-Pacific are nuclear-capable,” he added.

The United States is leading the global opposition to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and it is championing freedom of navigation to counter China’s claim to almost all of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea.

To bolster that claim, China has built artificial islands on seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago that could be used for military purposes, raising tensions with rival claimants to territory in the South China Sea—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

The seven artificial islands are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, which has taken the dispute to the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague for resolution. A decision is expected by June.

Analysts said a more constant and increased US military presence in the Philippines through the Edca would slow down China’s expansion in the South China Sea.

Aquino to raise China issue

President Aquino may be expected to raise China’s expansionism at the Sunnylands summit, according to Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
Mr. Aquino “has always represented the Philippines’ position on the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight” in the South China Sea, as well as adherence to international law in resolving disputes in the strategic waterway, Coloma said in Manila on Sunday.

The President leaves for the summit today, accompanied by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and some Cabinet officials.

On Wednesday, Del Rosario disclosed a proposal for the rival claimants in the South China Sea to meet on the sidelines of the summit, but it was uncertain if the leaders’ schedules would allow for it.

Strategic partners

Obama proposed the summit during the third US-Asean meeting in Kuala Lumpur in November last year, following the decision of the leaders to elevate their relations to the strategic-partner level.

In a statement issued in December last year, the US government said the summit aimed to provide leaders a forum to strengthen cooperation under the new US-Asean strategic partnership on political, economic and security issues.

Briefing reporters in MalacaƱang last week, Assistant Foreign Secretary Hellen Barber-de la Vega said it would be the first meeting between Asean and the United States as strategic partners.

The summit aims to “explore how Asean and the [United States], after elevating their relations to the strategic-partner level, can work more effectively together and especially now with the establishment of the Asean Community,” De la Vega said.

Joint US-Phl patrols in disputed seas welcomed

From the Philippine Star (Feb 14): Joint US-Phl patrols in disputed seas welcomed               

Filipino businessmen and fishermen welcome the planned joint maritime patrols of Filipino and American troops in the West Philippine Sea, which United States Ambassador Philip Goldberg announced earlier.

China occupied and built artificial islands in Kagitingan, Mabini, Gaven, Cuarteron, Burgos, Subi and Panganiban reefs, further compromising freedom of navigation in the areas that belong to the Philippines.

A number of businessmen engaged in fishing admitted that their vessels have steered away from the fish-rich region due to prevailing security concerns.

One of the businessmen told The STAR he would only allow his fleet to resume operations in the Spratlys if there is an assurance that the region is safe from China’s bullying.

Noy off to US for summit

From the Philippine Star (Feb 14): Noy off to US for summit

President Aquino will leave for the United States tomorrow to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-US summit, the first meeting of ASEAN and the US as strategic partners.

Aquino has noted the dignified treatment Philippine delegates are receiving abroad and the improved credit ratings and support from the international community.

The ASEAN-US summit in Sunnylands, California will be attended by President Barack Obama, who proposed the meeting during the third ASEAN-US summit in Kuala Lumpur in November.

Obama’s proposal came after the leaders decided to elevate the ASEAN-US dialogue to strategic partner level.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario will join Aquino in the ASEAN-US summit.

Del Rosario said the summit agenda would focus on maritime security, economic integration as well as transnational concerns and strategic partnership with the US.

Maria Hellen Barber-de la Vega of the Office of ASEAN Affairs said the meeting will focus on how ASEAN and the US could work more effectively together, especially with the establishment of the ASEAN community.

The South China Sea dispute and North Korea’s rocket launch will be discussed in the summit as well as maritime security, transnational challenges and other political issues like countering violent extremism.

De la Vega said economic issues will focus on how the US could support ASEAN integration.

After the summit, Aquino will meet with the Filipino community and businessmen, and receive an honorary degree at the Loyola Marymount University.

This will likely be Aquino’s last foreign trip as President as the campaign season and the elections will keep him busy.

Aquino said when he was just starting to attend international events abroad, he felt that other heads of state or government leaders were just compelled to deal with him.

“That was before. Now, one of the heads of state who found it difficult to talk to me has asked me what’s the Philippines’ secret for having a 6.6 percent economic growth.

“Well, we just followed your example,” was Aquino’s reply to that leader, whose economy was growing by 1.4 percent.

He said in jest that he did not want to share it as the Philippines was just catching up and its strategy should not be copied.

“He did not ask for details anymore. Our GDP (gross domestic product) is still higher than theirs,” he said.

He said another head of state who seemed to look down on him had invited him to visit their country on their second meeting.

Obama to push for trade agenda

The summit between Southeast Asian leaders and Obama is unlikely to deliver any big economic prizes, but will allow the American side to press the advantages of joining a Pacific trade pact that doesn’t include China.

The meetings at Rancho Mirage in California set for Monday and Tuesday will be the first summit of its kind for the 10-member ASEAN on US soil.

Its special nature is intended to show the Obama administration’s commitment to countering growing Chinese influence in a region that is home to 620 million people and a $2.6 trillion economy.

Southeast Asian nations have benefited from increased trade and investment stemming from their giant neighbor’s economic rise, but many are wary of China achieving overweening influence.

The US, meanwhile, has an interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, a crucial global trade route.

The summit is meant to send a signal that the US values ASEAN, said US deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

“We are going to be engaged in Southeast Asia, in working with the nations of the Asia Pacific to clear rules of the road on the various issues of common interest that we share with them,” Rhodes said.

The Southeast Asian nations of Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are already part of the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact that is awaiting ratification by national parliaments.

Panels sign TOR on transformation of MILF camps

From the Philippine Star (Feb 14): Panels sign TOR on transformation of MILF camps

Under the Annex on Normalization of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the JTFC shall be formed to transform six previously acknowledged MILF camps into peaceful communities and bring back normalcy to the lives of former rebels.   AP/Karlos Manlupig, file

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have signed the terms of reference (TOR) for the Joint Task Forces on MILF camps (JTFC) transformation.

Under the Annex on Normalization of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the JTFC shall be formed to transform six previously acknowledged MILF camps into peaceful communities and bring back normalcy to the lives of former rebels.

The government and the MILF peace panels signed the TOR following a two-day meeting on the BBL in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia early this week.

Government panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF and Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairman Mohagher Iqbal said the BBL Annex on Normalization provides for confidence-building measures that may be undertaken through the joint task forces.

“There shall be joint task forces for each of the six previously acknowledged MILF camps and their work shall be coordinated and supervised by four coordinators – two each from the government and the MILF,” the TOR, posted on the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, stated.

The tasks of coordinators include the provision of overall leadership and direction for the transformation of the former MILF camps into peaceful and productive communities.

Four coordinators shall be tasked to coordinate and give logistical support for the work of the JTFC in each camp, the two panels said.

They are also tasked to establish protocols in camp development and tap necessary government agencies, development partners, non-governmental organizations, private sector and local government units for the implementation of programs/projects.

The government and MILF panels may amend the TOR “after the necessary review to meet changing conditions.”

Ferrer and Iqbal signed the TOR in the presence of Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed.

‘Breathing room’

Meanwhile, MalacaƱang welcomed yesterday the “breathing room” for the peace process between the government and the MILF despite the failure of Congress to pass the BBL.

The two panels have agreed to extend the ceasefire until March 2017.

“The pledge to keep commitment to the peace process would give breathing room for the peace process to continue under the next administration,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said.

Quezon cited the peace process as an important deterrent to security threats and terrorism.

“It is not in the interest of any side – not the government and not the groups involved in the peace process. No one wins in a war, not the government and not our Moro brothers,” he said over dzRB.

Security officials who asked not to be identified also said the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF should go beyond 2017 as renewed hostilities would likely force a number of foreign and local investors to stop doing business in Mindanao.

Retirement papers submitted to pension office, not Noy – Iriberri

From the Philippine Star (Feb 14): Retirement papers submitted to pension office, not Noy – Iriberri

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri. USARPAC photo/Kyle J. Richardson/File
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri yesterday clarified he did not submit his retirement papers to President Aquino.
Iriberri also stressed that his giving of retirement documents to the military’s pension office was in compliance with a longstanding policy.
“I already submitted my retirement papers as early as October last year. That’s in compliance with AFP policy that retiring personnel must complete and submit their retirement supporting documents to the AFP Pension and Gratuity Management Center six months prior to retirement date,” Iriberri said in a text message to The STAR.
“I did not say that I already submitted by retirement papers to the president,” he added.

Navy insists it has legal basis on request to get Marcelino's custody

From the Philippine Star (Feb 14): Navy insists it has legal basis on request to get Marcelino's custody

The Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Group rejected a proposal of the Justice department to move Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino to another detention facility while undergoing preliminary investigation on drug charges. File photo

The Navy on Sunday maintained that its request to place Marine Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino, the military officer facing drug-related charges, under its custody has legal basis.

Navy spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo stressed that Marcelino is a soldier and should therefore be subject to military law.

“Our basis is not only the threat but it’s the fact that he (Marcelino) is a military personnel, he is subject to military law so that is our primordial basis,” Arevalo said in an interview.

Earlier, the Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (PNP-AIDG) rejected a proposal of the Justice department to move Marcelino to another detention facility while undergoing preliminary investigation on drug charges.

The Navy requested custody of Marcelino last month, saying he should be confined in a military-controlled facility since he is an active military officer. The Navy also cited the need to ensure Marcelino’s safety while awaiting the results of the investigation.

PNP-AIDG chief Senior Superintendent Manolo Ozaeta, however,  said permitting the transfer of Marcelino to a facility of the Navy or the National Bureau of Investigation would “set a bad precedent” and “open to the floodgates of similar requests” from military personnel who are in jail.

Ozaeta also believes that keeping Marcelino at a Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facility would prevent public perception that the Marine officer is receiving special treatment while in detention.

Ozaeta also said that the BJMP can keep Marcelino safe while he is inside the Quezon City jail annex, where drug suspects are also detained.

Arevalo said the Navy respects the PNP-AIDG’s position but insisted that the request to detain Marcelino in a military-controlled facility has legal basis.

“Precedence is not our basis. Our basis is legal basis. It is properly rooted in legal basis. It may create a precedence but if it does, and if it is legal, then it is in accordance with the law,” the Navy spokesman said.

“The basis of the Navy is the law,” he added.

Marcelino and Chinese national Yan Yi Shou were arrested last month in a raid on a suspected shabu laboratory in Manila. Authorities seized some 76 kilos of illegal drugs worth P383 million during the operation.

The Marine officer is now facing charges for allegedly manufacturing, conspiring to manufacture, and possessing illegal drugs.

Marcelino is claiming that he was on a covert mission with the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines when he was arrested and that he had nothing to do with the drug syndicate. The Marine officer, who was described by his military colleagues as a serious anti-drug crusader, used to be the Director of the Special Enforcement Service of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Navy to resume sending supplies to Spratlys once ship repaired

From GMA News (Feb 14): Navy to resume sending supplies to Spratlys once ship repaired

The Philippine Navy will resume sending supplies to Filipino troops stationed in the Spratly Islands once the ship that was carrying the supplies is repaired, a military officer said.

While there is no exact date given for when the mission will proceed, "I was told it will be immediately after the repair [on the ship] is completed," said Navy spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo in a phone interview.

The Navy's logistics ship BRP Laguna was in the process of delivering supplies to nine Philippine-occupied territories in the West Philippine Sea when engine trouble was detected.

According to Capt. Cheryl Tindog of the military's Western Command on Friday, the Laguna had managed to reach its first destination, Rizal Reef, and was about to proceed to Kota Island when the crew realized there was a problem.

"While underway, the engine No. 2 broke down…The main engine No. 2 broke down so they decided to go back to Balabac [Island, in Palawan] for repair and sailed on single engine only," she said.

Sufficient supplies

The troops that have yet to receive supplies are the soldiers stationed on the islands of Kota, Pag-asa, Lawak, Parola, Patag, Likas and Panata as well as on Ayungin Shoal.

Arevalo said that despite the setback, the troops still have sufficient supplies, as the quarterly re-supply missions are scheduled well before supplies run out.

 "We do not resupply on the last minute," he said. "[Re-supply missions] are programmed in such as way that they will still have supplies even if we encounter problems such as this. We still have time available, we still have a window," he added.

However, Arevalo could not immediately say how much supplies the troops still have. Arevalo also said that the Navy might decide to transfer the supplies to another ship to complete the re-supply mission.

"The plan is to use the same ship, but in the event it is not okay, we will determine the available assets to bring the supplies...we have available assets capable of doing that," he said.

The Philippines is one of several claimants to territories in the South China Sea, including the Spratly group of islands.