Friday, March 4, 2016

New Air Force chief to assume post next week

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 3): New Air Force chief to assume post next week

A new Air Force commanding general will assume next week as Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado relinquishes his post.

Military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said on Thursday that the turnover on March 9 will be held ahead of Delgado’s retirement date as he reaches the mandatory age of 56.

Delgado, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1984, is supposed to retire on March 20, however, the turnover will be held earlier due to ban on appointments as the upcoming election day (May 9) nears.

READ: PMA superintendent to retire Feb. 17; selection process for successor starts

The Constitution says the President shall not make appointments except temporary ones two months before the next national elections.

“The change of command was scheduled earlier in due consideration of the election ban on appointments and to our understanding, the leadership’s desire not to avail of the exemption given by Comelec (Commission on Elections),” said Padilla.

On Thursday, Delgado made his farewell visit to troops stationed at Mactan Air Base in Cebu.

He personally chose Maj. Marjorie Mukay, the first female pilot of the C-130, to fly his last official visit there, said Air Force spokesperson Col. Enrico Canaya.

President Benigno Aquino III will lead the turnover at Fernando Air Base in Lipa City, Batangas.

The successor of Delgado has not yet been announced. Padilla said his potential replacements have already been interviewed by the President.

Sources said that potential successor include Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, the Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy chief of staff.

Other candidates are 1st Air Division commander Maj. Gen. Raul del Rosario and Air Education and Training Command chief Maj. Gen. Salvador Melchor Mison, both from PMA Class of 1984; and Chief of Air Staff Maj. Gen. Galileo Kintanar, from PMA Class of 1985.

Opinion: Army transformation

Opinion piece from the Sketches column by Ana Marie Pamintuan in the Phhilippine Star (Mar 4): Army transformation

In a busy airport, people paused and then began applauding as a line of uniformed men and women filed past. The soldiers smiled as they acknowledged the accolade.

The scene, caught on video, was taken in the United States, where military personnel enjoy special facilities at airports. At Los Angeles International, audio recording is constantly played over the public address system, welcoming soldiers and thanking them for their “sacrifice.”

Such a scene is unlikely in our country at this point, although the public indignation over the slaughter of 44 police Special Action Force commandos indicated that Filipinos understand the personal risks taken by those tasked to keep the nation safe.
The Philippine National Police is civilian in nature but it is still seen as part of the uniformed services. The top tiers of the PNP also continue to be dominated by graduates of the Philippine Military Academy.

I haven’t seen that kind of public indignation over the killings of members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. This could be due to residual memories of military abuses during the Marcos dictatorship, the ruinous coups and slapstick mutinies plus the continuing human rights violations attributed to the AFP since 1986.

In the communities of lumads or indigenous tribes in Mindanao, a well-crafted video is presented to schoolchildren. The video has a voice-over of nursery rhymes in the local dialect declaring that their basic needs are neglected by the “government of the plains,” and that the AFP’s “Oplan Bayanihan” is “all lies” and offers “fake assistance.”

The children and the other lumads are also taught their version of the national anthem. Dubbed “Bayang Magiliw sa Kabila,” the anthem points to the “lupang sinira (ruined land)” and “pula ng watawat” or the red in the flag.

Oplan Bayanihan is the AFP’s strategy of engaging the community and as many sectors as possible in carrying out the missions of the military. AFP internal security operations have been changed to “internal peace and security operations,” with emphasis on the peace component. IPSO, conceived in December 2010, was implemented in 2011.

“We’re trained to destroy,” said Philippine Army (PA) public affairs chief Col. Benjamin Hao. “Now everyone has started thinking: how can we win the peace?”
* * *
Hao visited The STAR yesterday together with Army Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., the PA commander’s chief of staff; his public affairs chief Maj. Marco Antonio Magisa, and the AFP’s private sector partner, CEO Alex Lacson of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia. ISA was founded by Cory Aquino’s finance chief Jesus Estanislao.
It is chaired by former civil service chief and health secretary Francisco Duque. ISA has received strong support particularly from private sector volunteers identified with the Ayala group.

The Army visitors were the ones who showed us the sleek lumad video. Winning hearts and minds has always been a challenge for the AFP, but even more so in the rebel-influenced lumad communities.

ISA is part of the multisectoral advisory board that is assisting the AFP in achieving its goal of making the public appreciate the role played by soldiers. Its vision is to have “a world-class Army that is a source of national pride by 2028,” pursuing a “genuine transformation program founded on good governance and performance excellence.”
Lacson said the focus is on making institutions “effective, efficient and inclusive,” through partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Among the institutions being developed into “champions in good governance” are the Army and Philippine Navy.
* * *
To inform the public about the “Army Transformation Roadmap,” exhibits and “caravans” are being staged around the country as the PA prepares to celebrate its 119th anniversary on March 22.

Tomorrow at Bonifacio High Street in Taguig, an M113 armored personnel carrier will be part of an Army display, with children encouraged to explore the vehicle. It will be the fourth time that Boni High Street is hosting such an exhibit. The first time was during the Army anniversary in 2014, followed by a similar one at last year’s PA celebration, and a third one on Independence Day 2015. The last one saw 11,500 visitors.

Bomb disposal suits that the public can try on will be part of the exhibit. Burgos said they want people including children to lose any fear of the AFP.

“We hope to tell them what the Army transformation is all about,” Hao said.

Inevitably, questions about transformation include military capability. Burgos points out that AFP modernization received a substantial boost under President Aquino and the nation is on track to achieve minimum credible defense posture.

Army troops have received 44,000 R4 guns – an M16-type assault rifle used by NATO and US forces – with 12,000 more just completing ballistics before distribution. Jets and naval vessels are also being acquired. (The AFP has Beijing to thank for the political will in the Philippine government to boost military modernization.)

Capability building must be complemented by a boost in civilian support. There are hefty roadblocks ahead, but if reforms stay on track, the AFP may yet realize its wish of seeing civilians “embrace” their soldiers.

PHL looking into weapons purchase from Slovenia amid sea row with China

From GMA News (Mar 4): PHL looking into weapons purchase from Slovenia amid sea row with China

The Philippine military is looking into acquiring new maritime and air defense communication equipment from Slovenia amid the continuing presence of Chinese patrol vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

This was among the topics discussed during the meeting between Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo and a Slovenian delegation led by Secretary of State Ales Cantarutti in Intramuros, Manila, on Thursday.

"When we talk of maritime defense, we're talking of brigades. We're talking of sensors that must be installed in brigades. We're talking of anti-submarine helicopters. We're talking of stategic vehicles. We're talking of amphibious assault vehicle. We're talking of other system that is needed to protect our territories," Manalo said.

Cantarutti, who also heads Slovenia's Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, was in the country to discuss business opportunities including those involving their defense products.

Although the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of National Defense (DND) have denied reports indicating China has already occupied Quirino Atoll—an area near Palawan that is clearly within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone—the DFA said Chinese presence in the area may cause additional tension.

Manalo said although there are no new sightings of Chinese vessels in the Quirino formation, the country must be ready to secure its territory at all times.

"When we talk of naval maritime defense we talk about brigade, we talk about missiles, we talk about any other countries will ask in order to secure its integrity," he said.

Manalo said the timing of Cantarutti's visit was "perfect" as the Philippines is now aggressively looking and canvassing for defense products to complete the requirements as part for the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) Modernization Program.

Manalo said the DND will propose a higher budget for the program in the next few years.

For the year 2017, Manalo said the budget proposal for the program will reach up to P25 billion. He said this could reach P40 billion in 2020.

"Tthe budget proposal for the modernization will increase from P20 billion in 2016 up to P50 billion somewhere in 2025," he said.

The DND, however, clarified that the AFP Modernization Program and their active search for new defense equipment are not meant to provoke any country.

Manalo also said Slovenia is just one of the countries and corporations that are being considered as sources of defense supplies by the Philippines.

Cantarutti, for his part, said they have enough resources to supply the needs of the AFP.

"Slovenia has quite a strong cluster of companies that produce services or I should say solution and products for defense industry and in retrospect I think this could be an opportunity also for increase in cooperation between the Philippines and Slovenia," he said.

The Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Island served as host for the Slovenian delegation in cooperation with the DFA.

MILF: Editorial -- Flipside of frustration

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Mar 3): Editorial: Flipside of frustration

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) did not pass Congress and consequently there is frustration all over. This make it double whammy for the MILF and those who supported the BBL and the peace process in general. To this day, they are still reeling from it. The truth is that the MILF is hard-pressed to adopt a more hard-line stance in reaction to the BBL fiasco. In fact, it is practically battered from all sides, especially its negotiating peace panel. But the maturity, experience, and wisdom of the MILF leadership have prevailed over the sudden upsurge of emotions, which is natural and a valid feeling. Any member or official of the MILF who is not offended by the non-passage of the BBL does not deserve to be part of it.

Since its inception in 1977, the MILF has always been faced by so many similar situations in the past, which were more trying if not more dangerous. In most cases, however, it emerged on top of them and wiser. It is aware that any decision based on a sudden outburst of emotion or indignation will always end regrettably.

As always, decision should be guided by the basic principles of which the organization is founded upon and on strategic considerations. Tactical decision of weighing the immediate costs and benefits always occupies second fiddle.  This is the most natural order.

Be this as it may, if there is threat in frustration, but in the flipside, there is also an opportunity! In a span of less than a week, MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met two Muslim world leaders in a bid to ensure that the search for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Mindanao would proceed despite the setback created by the abortion of the BBL. Murad met Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak last February 25 in Kuala Lumpur and Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on February 28. With the latter, they discussed the need to strengthen the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) wherein all the Moro liberation fronts would converge, alongside the stress on the pursuit of peace in Mindanao. The MILF also called on the international community to help capacitate and strengthen the Bangsamoro people and, in particular, the MILF, in their democratic assertions of their right to self-determination. If the BBL did not pass Congress, because those supporting it, including the MILF, are not as powerful as those opposing it.

But as of date, the peace and order situation in many parts of Mindanao has not yet stabilized completely. But the MILF is not involved in them. It continues to uphold firmly the need to pursue the peace process and the maintenance of the ceasefire on the ground. These pockets of skirmishes involved the other armed groups namely, the Abu Sayyaf and the so-called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM).

Complicating the situation is the rise of extremism, mainly fuelled by the common belief that government has always adopted deceptive policies vis-a-vis Moros and the influence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is clearly visible especially among the young generations, who are naturally idealistic, adventurous, and bold and daring. Skirmishes involving them have already taken place recently in Palembang in Sultan Kudarat, and Butig in Lanao del Sur.

The truth is that as long as there is no just and genuine solution to the conflict in Mindanao, there will always be unpeace in this region. On the part of the MILF, we will always ask and tell the government to comply with its obligation by passing a law faithful to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

MILF: BDA SouthMin turns-over enhanced water system project to IP communities in Malapatan

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 5): BDA SouthMin turns-over enhanced water system project to IP communities in Malapatan

The Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) Southern Mindanao (SouthMin) turned-over an enhanced Spring Development - Water System Project for upland communities of Barangay Lun Masla in Malapatan, Sarangani Province.

With the assistance of BDA staff, the People's Organization constructed another intake box to catch new sources of water from a spring.

BDA had already provided the spring development project, however due to dry spell in the past months, the supply of water to the original intake box decreased prompting the PO to look for another source.

In a simple ceremony held on Wednesday (Mar 2), the officers and members of Lun Masla Tri-people Organization (LMTPO) together with the beneficiaries thanked BDA and the donors for the provision of water supply which is the primary needs of the constituents where the project was established.

About 200 households in Puroks Kafgul, Kalmenda and Sto. Nino, dominated by B'laan tribesmen, are the project beneficiaries.

Alimuddin Hadjinor, BDA SouthMin Regional Manager, urged the People's Organization and the beneficiaries to take care of the project. He cited the importance of regular meetings, constant monitoring and fixing troubles at early stage in managing the said project.

LMTPO President, Ferdinand Usop, asked the BDA staff to inform the donors how grateful the community members are for the project which they consider a blessing.
He also thanked the Barangay Local Government Units and the Municipal government of Malapatan for their counterparts and technical assistance.

The development assistance is provided by Mindanao Trust Fund Reconstruction and Development Program (MTFRDP)-Institutional Strengthening Agreement (ISA).

It delivers organizational development and livelihood skills training and financial assistance that enhances or expands the previously given MTFRDP sub-projects to the PO.

ISA strengthens community organizations helping them to generate income to improve the living standards and reduce poverty. It was implemented from July to December 2015.

MTF is fund facility administered by the World Bank and is supported by various donors such as the European Union (EU), DFAT Australia (then AusAID), DFATD Canada (then Canadian International Development Agency), New Zealand Aid for International Development, Sweden International Development Agency, and United States Aid for International Development (USAID).

MILF: OIC Secretary General Madani meets MILF Chieftain Al Haj Murad

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 3): OIC Secretary General Madani meets MILF Chieftain Al Haj Murad

His Excellency Iyad Ameen Madani, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) met Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Sunday, February 28, 2016, a press release issued on March 01, 2016 said.

The meeting came after the severe setback to the peace process due to the failure of the Philippine Congress to adopt the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

In the said press release, the Secretary General expressed his deep disappointment over the non-passage of the BBL which is a major step towards the final resolution of the Bangsamoro question.

The Secretary General urged all parties to remain fully committed to the process and to stay the course of peace. He urged the incoming administration to re-file the BBL as originally agreed upon and ensure its early passage.

For his part, Al Haj Murad assured the Secretary General that, in spite of the great disappointment, the MILF would continue to uphold the peace process, and would continue to call on the Bangsamoro people to remain patient and to rally behind the full implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).

The Secretary General welcomed this continued firm commitment by the MILF towards the peace process and towards sustaining the ceasefire and avoiding resorting to violence. At the same time, the Secretary General warned of the adverse effect of the delay of adopting the BBL or adopting a modified weak version of it, on human, security and developmental aspect of the region.He also warned against the risk of worsening the situation that could allow the spread of violent extremism. A failure of peace process could adversely affect the good relation existing between the Philippines and the Muslim world.

The Secretary General reiterated the firm support of the OIC to the peace process and the full implementation of CAB and all related agreements, namely the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996.

Jakarta Agreement, and welcomed the commitment of Malaysiangovernment to continue its support for the peace process and its willingness to work with the next administration for that purpose.

The Secretary General  called upon the international community, particularly those involved in the peace process and those that witnessed the signing of the CAB, to urge the incoming administration to save this process and guarantee the passage of the BBL as originally agreed upon.

The Secretary General urged the Bangsamoro people to unify, consolidate and converge together towards the advancement of thepeace process and the final resolution of the conflict in Mindanao.

He further urged the leaders of the Bangsamoro people in particular,the MILF and the MNLF to utilize the existing mechanism, Bangsamoro Coordinating Forum (BCF) to achieve a more unified position and a more coherent consolidated and sustainablecooperation for the benefit of the Bangsamoro people.

The Secretary General urged the rest of the peace loving Philippines people to stand by their brethren in the south in their struggle to support the peace process.

MILF: UNYPAD facilitates inking of Peace Covenant in Pikit Town

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 3): UNYPAD facilitates inking of Peace Covenant in Pikit Town

(Leaders) of Guiamad and Mamalangkay clans finally sealed their 9-year old conflict by signing a peace covenant on February 28, 2016 at Sitio Baruyan, Nalapaan, Pikit, Cotabato.

In his opening remarks, Yusoph Lumambas, Secretary-General of the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD) said that the activity was made possible through the facilitation of the UNYPAD through its organized Responding Team (RT).

“This conflict mitigation is done under the project “Building Peace in Mindanao through Public Participation in Governance” in partnership with the Conciliation Resources (C-R), a United Kingdom-based International Non-Government Organization (INGO) with funding assistance from the European Union (EU),” he explained.

“Considering the meager budget from the EU for the entire facilitation process, the UNYPAD sought financial assistance, as it traditionally do, from the Local Government Units (LGUs) of Pikit and Aleosan, all of North Cotabato Province, to cope with other financial requirements, that included amount to be given to both clans for the thanksgiving or ‘Kanduli’ where all clan members are invited so that they can see themselves the contents of the peace covenant, among others,” he added.

“Aside from the rewards that we expect from Allah, UNYPAD has been doing this conflict mitigation for quite some time as we know that the achievement of the Bangsamoro freedom requires unity and solidarity among Bangsamoro,” Dr Rahib Kudto, UNYPAD President, said.

“We know that what we have been affording great support to the peace process between the government and MILF especially in the normalization component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), he added.

Asked about whether UNYPAD shall proceed or not with its conflict mitigation work since Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) has been declared dead in the 16th Congress, he said, “We will continue this work, and we will even double our efforts.”

“This is not contingent with the BBL. UNYPAD has been in this work even before the existence of the BBL.” Kudto stressed.

“The only thing that worries me about BBL is that its death in congress may encourage Bangsamoro especially young individuals to resort to violent way,” he pointed out.

Pikit Mayor Muhyrin Sultan - Casi, in her welcome address, thanked both clans for their full cooperation as this covenant shall benefit their succeeding generations.

In his message, read for him by Norhana P. Kamid, Paul Adolfo, Project Manager of “Building Peace in Mindanao through Public Participation in Governance” project congratulated both parties for the successful resolution of the ‘rido’ or clan feud and urged everyone to keep peace moving in every one’s heart despite the fate of the BBL.

Datuan Magon, Coordinator-General of the Bantay Security Network (BSN), disclosed that there were previous attempts in resolving this conflict but they failed due to no clear road map for settlement of the conflict, no written documents were signed by both parties to attest to their unity, no trust building mechanism was established between the parties and no specific solution was made to end the conflict.

“Under the covenant signed, both parties agreed to solve the problem through peaceful means, forget the said conflict that took place involving members of their clans and forgive each other”, said Magon.

“Clan members also recognized the need to sustain the existence of core group for each clan and agreed to authorize the said core group with participation of Moro Commanders Hadji Abubakar Karim and Abdulmaula Masibpel to take necessary actions should there be problems in the future done by any members of the clans involved”; he added.

Hon. Aleosan town Mayor Vicente Surofia thanked both clans for amicably ending their feud. He also committed to bring developments in the community of Luwanan by providing electricity, farm to market road, provision of agricultural inputs and water facilities.

In his statement, Team Chairman Samad Edol thanked both Datu Sumulong and the CR for their assistance in making the mediation successful.

He said that, in the covenant,  the parties appreciated and acknowledged the great importance of the conflict mitigation activity of the UNYPAD in partnership with the CR under “Building Peace in Mindanao through Public Participation in Governance,” with financial supports from the EU, Hon. Mayor Muhyryn Sultan-Casi of Pikit and Hon. Vicente Soropia of the municipality of Aleosan.

“I am also extending my thanks and appreciation to the MILF local commanders who served as our partners in this historic journey. Without your full cooperation and participation this settlement could have not been made possible,” he pointed out.

Butch Malang of MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) thanked the organizers of the activity, and urged all Bangsamoro people to be united, work hand in hand regardless of organizational affiliations and occupation in addressing this problem on ‘rido’ as it affects the communities.

The Mamalangkay-Guiamad rido that started on March 13, 2007 caused poverty, displacements, loss of lives and properties as well as illiteracy because parents cannot afford to send their children to school.

Among the guests were C-R representative, International Monitoring Team (IMT), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) representative, MILF Joint Normalization Committee (JNC) representative, CCCH of both GPH and MILF, Base commanders from National Guard Front Command, 108th and 110th Base Commanders of the MILF-BIAF, MILF Ligawasan Sharia Court representative, LGUs of Pikit and Aleosan, North Cotabato provincial Board Member Hon. Kelly U. Antao, Col. Edralin of 7th IB PA, and traditional leaders.

MILF: New JICA President commits support to peace process

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 3): New JICA President commits support to peace process

JICA’s new President Sinichi Kitaoka committed to “do (their) best to support the peace process” as he made a courtesy visit to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in Cotabato City on Tuesday evening (March 1).

He said that Japan will continue to support the on-going peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) even with the non-passage of the Bangsamoro basic Law (BBL).

JICA or Japan International Cooperation Agency is an agency of the government of Japan responsible for implementing Japan’s Official Development Asssitance (ODA).

“Definitely we are concerned of the slow process of the option of (passing) this basic law,” he said,  adding that “I hope whoever will be elected to the presidency, he or she will definitely support this process.”

Kitaoka, Japan’s former ambassador to the United Nations (UN), assumed the position as JICA’s head last October.

He cited the importance for the parties in the peace negotiations to consider human security and to avoid the use of arms in resolving conflict.

“The international community has come to agree in the form of UN charter that no international dispute should be solved by power,” said Kitaoka.  “This should also be applied to domestic issues,” he added.

He noted other conflicts taking place in some parts of the world. “We have to make another effort to implement the peace process here,” he urged. “By so doing, Japan and the Philippines can show that model of reconciliation,” he said.

Giving the JICA delegations a warm welcome, BTC Chair Mohagher Iqbal said that it is “an opportune time to renew commitments and discuss issues on mutual interest together with possible solutions as we face a new chapter of our journey towards peace in Mindanao.”

JICA has been engaged with the BTC in collaboration with the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) in implementing the Quick Impact Projects (QIP) benefiting 20 Bangsamoro communities from different regions of Mindanao through the provision of multi-purpose halls, school buildings and warehouse with solar drier.

QIP is implemented through the Comprehensive Capacity Development Project for the Bangsamoro (CCDP-B) which is a confidence building program of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission Socio-Economic Office (BTC-SEO) and JICA.

“It is gratifying to note that the agenda of this visit by our friends from JICA covers a wide range of very helpful matters relating to the continuity of the projects and programs in support of the peace process,” Chairman Iqbal said.

The BTC head added also said that “although the extent of our engagement cannot be ascertained, we are still honored that JICA especially the current president continuously see the prospects of peace and development in the Bangsamoro even without the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

Chairman Iqbal underscored the tremendous efforts and investment of funds for Mindanao from the Japanese government as the two parties preserve the gains of the peace process.

“We are also confident that all of this support will leave a multiplier effect in strengthening our cause and consolidating our people in the Bangsamoro in the pursuit of peace and the exercise of the right to self-determination,” he said.

In his message, BTC Commissioner Abdulla Camlian noted that JICA has been with the Bangsamoro since the inception of the negotiation.

“Throughout the long and arduous way, and with each and every milestone of the Bangsamoro, is also a ‘JICA story’ to tell,” he said.

Camlian cited JICA’s intervention -- the Comprehensive Capacity Development Project for the Bangsamoro – catered to wide-array of Bangsamoro people. He added that the QIP is already impacting the lives of the people in the community.

Camlian expressed gratitude to JICA for sharing moments with the Bangsamoro people and for keeping the hopes up.

Parts of the JICA delegation were Takumi Eushima, Yasushi Tanaka, Jin Wakabayashi, Atsushi Hanatashi, Noriaki Niwa, Yuko Tanaka, Maiko Morizane, Naoyuki Ochiae, Shu Nishimaru and Juro Chikaraishi.

BTC Commissioners Ibrahim Ali, Hussein Muñoz , and Said Sheikh joined Chairman Iqbal in welcoming the special guests.

MILF: Malaysian peace monitors bid farewell to BTC

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 4): Malaysian peace monitors bid farewell to BTC 

In their demonstration of courtesy and brotherhood, the 10th Batch of International Monitoring Team (IMT) Malaysian contingents bade farewell to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) during an exit meeting held at the BTC office in Cotabato City on Wednesday (March 2).

The outgoing IMT Head of Mission, Maj Gen Datu Moksin bin Sheikh Hassan, expressed thanks for the support of the Bangsamoro people during their yearlong stint as peace monitors.

BTC Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, together with his fellow commissioners, thanked the IMT members for their noble tour of duty in support for peaceful resolution of Mindanao conflict.
Chairman Iqbal commended the Malaysian Government on how it values its involvement in the peace process.
He said the next batch of IMT from Malaysia that scheduled to arrive on the 14th day of March will be accompanied by the Malaysian Defence Minister.
"I feel very honored to be with my Muslim brothers and sisters here," Moksin said.
"I have a great pleasure of meeting a number of dedicated stakeholders who give their selves for the peace process in Mindanao," he expressed.
In upholding their mandate, the IMT head related they have travelled to many areas of Mindanao and got involved in conflict resolutions.
He revealed there were ups and downs and challenges in their tour of duty - monitoring the adherence of the government and MILF to the ceasefire agreement. 
The Head of Mission noted the sad fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law which the Philippine Congress failed to pass in last month's sessions. 
"The proposed measure may have not been passed because by God's will ‘there may be a bigger BBL' that will come," he said.
Moksin asked the BTC family to give the same support bestowed upon the IMT Batch 10 to the upcoming Malaysian IMT members.  
The IMT chief said prosperity and peace in Mindanao will be realized when the stakeholders, the Bangsamoro people and international peace monitors work together. He prayed that the passage of the Bangsamoro law will be realized.
The BBL is the legal instrument that will provide the establishment of autonomous Bangsamoro government with more political and fiscal powers. 
BTC Commissioner Abdulla Camlian thanked the peace monitors for being with the Bangsamoro people in the peace process giving their time and efforts. "Thank you for services, you have accompanied us in our time of needs," he said.
Camlian said there is uncertainty in the upcoming administration for it is difficult to tell what its policy is on the peace process. 
The Filipino citizens will elect the next president of the Philippines in the May National Elections.
Despite the setback on the peace process, he said that the MILF will pursue the peaceful resolution to achieve its goal. 
The IMT is one of the structures of the peace process involving the services of foreign military officers whose main task is to monitor the observance of the two parties in the implementation of the ceasefire agreement.
Peace monitors from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Japan comprise the IMT at present.
In 1997, the Government of the Philippines and the MILF agreed to uphold ceasefire while the peace negotiation is going on.

China’s military spending increase to be smallest in 6 years

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 4): China’s military spending increase to be smallest in 6 years
Delegates from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) arrive at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, March 4, 2016. China said Friday it will boost military spending by about 7 to 8 percent this year, the smallest increase in six years, reflecting slowing economic growth and a drawdown of 300,000 troops as Beijing seeks to build a more streamlined, modern military. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Delegates from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army arrive at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 4. China said Friday it would boost military spending by about 7 to 8 percent this year, the smallest increase in six years, reflecting slowing economic growth and a drawdown of 300,000 troops as Beijing seeks to build a more streamlined, modern military. AP

China said Friday it will boost defense spending by about 7 to 8 percent in 2016, the smallest increase in six years, reflecting slowing growth in the world’s second-largest economy and a drawdown of 300,000 troops as Beijing seeks to build a more streamlined, modern military.

The People’s Liberation Army, being trimmed to 2 million troops from 2.3 million, will still be the world’s largest standing military. A robust armed forces remains a major priority for China’s leaders who have pushed an increasingly aggressive campaign to assert territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, raising tensions with its neighbors.

Spending at all levels of China’s government is being curbed because of a drop in the economic growth rate, which fell to a 25-year low of 6.9 percent in 2015 and is expected to decline further this year. For most years since 2000, China posted double-digit increases in military spending, and this will be only the third time in that period with a single-digit increase, including 2010’s increase of 7.5 percent.

The lower increase is a reflection of the “new normal” of more moderate economic growth that President Xi Jinping has been touting for the past two years, said Alexander Neill, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security for the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in Singapore.

Still, such spending is “nothing to be sniffed at” in comparison with much smaller defense budgets in the developed economies, Neill said.

“It’s reflective of China’s determination to maintain a robust and modern fighting force,” he said.

In announcing the approximate rate of increase, Fu Ying, the spokeswoman for the China’s ceremonial legislature, National People’s Congress, told reporters that China needs to consider its defense needs, economic development and the country’s fiscal position in drafting the defense budget.

With last year’s budget standing at $144 billion, an increase of 7 to 8 percent would take defense spending for this year to between $154 and $155 billion—still less than one-third of what the US is proposing to spend this year. The exact figure will be revealed as part of the overall proposed national spending plan for 2016 to be presented at Saturday’s opening of the NPC’s annual two-week session.

The defense budget increased 10.1 percent last year, despite falling growth, raising concerns about whether such spending was sustainable.

China says its military is strictly for defensive purposes, but takes a broad view of what constitutes threats to its core interests—including protecting maritime territory that is in dispute with neighboring countries.

Its aggressive program of building islands on reefs and atolls in the South China Sea as part of its campaign to claim virtually the entire region has unnerved China’s neighbors. Meanwhile, China continues a low-level campaign of confronting Japanese ships and aircraft near a set of contested East China Sea islands.

The modest size of the increase appeared to surprise many observers who had been expecting another double-digit increase in line with the military’s higher profile

“I expected growth would be between 12 and 15 percent,” said Ni Lexiong, a military expert at Shanghai’s University of Political Science and Law, adding that any figure below 10 percent would likely “be not enough” to meet the PLA’s modernization goals.

Ni said the lower figure was likely due to both China’s current economic realities and a desire to be seen as working for peace and stability in its immediate environment, despite ongoing feuds with its Southeast Asian neighbors, the US and Japan, with which it has sparred over an unoccupied island chain in the East China Sea that Japan controls but which Beijing claims.

The smaller increase comes as China is shifting more resources away from its massive land army and toward the navy and air force, along with cyber warfare and the missile corps.

Along with the structural changes it is undergoing, the PLA says pay raises are constantly needed to compete with the private sector to attract and retain educated personnel qualified to operate high-tech weaponry and computer systems.

China provides no breakdown of its defense budget and Pentagon and global arms bodies estimate actual military spending may be anywhere from 40 to 50 percent more because the official budget doesn’t include the costs of high-tech weapons imports, research and development, and other programs.

“The official numbers … on the Chinese defense budget are pure fiction. They are meant to give a false sense of certainty where there is none,” said Ian Easton, research fellow at The Project 2049 Institute, an Arlington, Virginia-based Asian security think tank.

With inflation running at under 3 percent this year, the spending jump may actually be bigger in real terms than during the last decade when budget increases rose as high as 17.7 percent, but inflation also topped 8 percent at times.

The PLA’s traditional mandate had been to guard China’s borders and prepare for contingencies involving Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing has pledged to take control of, by force if necessary.

Newer missions, including UN peacekeeping operations, are now taking China’s military much further afield, possibly even overseas on anti-terrorism missions as mandated by a new law.

Meanwhile, China’s Asia-Pacific neighbors are responding with their own increased military spending.

Japan has already passed a record-high defense budget for 2016 of $41.4 billion, the second annual increase following 11 years of declines prior to hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s rise to power in 2012. Planes and naval vessels to counter China’s growing capabilities top the Japanese military’s shopping list.

India is spending big. New Delhi has expressed concern not only about its disputed land border with China high in the Himalayas, but also about the Chinese navy’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean.

Vietnam, which almost alone among the South China Sea disputants has confronted China openly, has roughly tripled its defense spending since 2009, adding advanced new equipment such as Kilo-class submarines from Russia.

At $598.5 billion last year, US defense spending far outstrips all other nations, although it comes against a background of anticipated flat or falling defense budgets in coming years. The omnibus appropriations measure passed by Congress in December calls for $573 billion for defense operations in 2016 and another $163 billion for Veterans Affairs Department programs.

Regarding the US, China should be in excellent position to capitalize politically on the slower growth in defense spending, Neill said, especially when the US raises its usual complaints about a lack of transparency in the Chinese system.

“China can come back and say, ‘we’ve significantly cut spending,” he said. “It’s quite a shrewd move, really.”

PAF plane delivers supplies for soldiers, residents in Pagasa

From the Philippine Star (Mar 34): PAF plane delivers supplies for soldiers, residents in Pagasa

In this May 11, 2015, file photo, this aerial photo taken through a glass window of a military plane shows China's alleged on-going reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP

An Air Force C-130 cargo plane arrived on Pagasa Island last Wednesday carrying supplies and provisions for the tiny municipality’s residents and small contingent of soldiers.

The arrival of the Hercules aircraft came at a time when Filipino fishermen were complaining about being harassed by Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, specifically at the Quirino (Jackson) Atoll near Palawan.

The arrival also coincided with reports that China has installed anti-aircraft defenses around its massive man-made island near Zamora (Subi) Reef.

It was not the first time that a C-130 plane landed on the island, but it was smaller aircraft like the Islander that usually delivered supplies and provisions to the tiny municipality’s small contingent of soldiers and residents.

Zamora Reef is just 25 kilometers from Pagasa Island. Philippine military and civilian aircraft usually fly near the area on their way to Rancudo Airfield.

“The plane just unloaded the necessary provisions and fuel needed by the islanders and the soldiers and left,” a source said.

It was not immediately known if the Chinese navy questioned or challenged the PAF cargo plane when the latter flew over the area.

At this time of the year, the waters in the West Philipipne Sea and the South China Sea are very rough and dangerous to vessels.

Other Philippine outposts on eight other occupied territories in the disputed region usually get their supplies through airdrop.

China is claiming almost the entire South China Sea and the West Philippine and is becoming more aggressive in asserting its claim.

Last week, several Chinese vessels occupied Quirino Atoll and barred Filipino fishermen from the area.

No more ships

The Philippine military denied the report even as the Chinese foreign ministry admitted sending vessels to the area but only to remove and tow a grounded Filipino fishing boat. The ships left after completing their task, the foreign ministry said.

Despite having withdrawn the ships from the atoll, Beijing reiterated its claim of indisputable sovereignty over the area, which is between the Philippine-occupied Lawak Island and China-occupied Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

The Philippine Coast Guard, for its part, said it is still clueless about the ownership of the grounded fishing boat.

PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said that they are still trying to determine who among the Manila-based fishing firms had abandoned a boat on Quirino Atoll.

Mindoro-based fishermen said the ill-fated fishing vessel was owned and operated by a fishing company based in Manila.

They said the fishing boat got stuck in the atoll in November last year during bad weather.

Reacting to the Quirino Atoll issue, the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay maintained that the issue of the country’s sovereignty is non-negotiable.

But Rico Quicho, campaign spokesman for the United Nationalist Alliance, said Binay is open to holding multilateral talks with Beijing over a possible joint exploration of the disputed territories.

“First of all, the (issue of) sovereignty is non-negotiable,” he told reporters in Filipino. “We will fight for what is rightfully ours.”

He clarified that the negotiations would cover economic matters, saying they should be separate from political issues.

Earlier, his runningmate Sen. Gregorio Honasan II said it is time to test the country’s bilateral ties with the United States and other countries.

Another presidential candidate Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for her part, said that under her administration, the government would take a more proactive approach in resolving the West Philippine Sea dispute.

“The government seems to have grown complacent on the issue of the West Philippine Sea dispute, confident that the international tribunal now hearing the memorial it has filed against China will rule in its favor,” Santiago said.

“It is not true at all that the arbitral tribunal may decide on the Philippine side in the face of China’s excepting itself from the application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Articles 297 and 298,” she added.

“The dispute with China requires a second level of diplomacy as the other party takes keen interest in bilateral negotiation bordering on conciliation, relying on the principles set forth in the UNCLOS, Part XV, Section 1,” she said.

Santiago was given a seat as judge in the International Court of Justice in 2011 but resigned three years later for health reasons.

The senator also hit the Aquino administration for relying heavily on US support against Chinese expansionism, noting that both military giants have interests in controlling the West Philippine Sea. Santiago said her administration would not depend solely on US support to resolve a dispute with a neighboring country. “If elected, I will negotiate with China together with other Asian countries,” she added.

The senator, who also chairs the Senate foreign relations committee and the legislative oversight committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement, fought in January to have the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with US voided if not ratified by the chamber.

The Supreme Court has since ruled on the validity of the EDCA, which it considered an executive agreement implementing the VFA.

Japan to lease trainer aircraft to Philippine Navy

From the Philippine Star (Mar 4): Japan to lease trainer aircraft to Philippine Navy

Japan is reported to lease five of its retired Maritime Self-Defense Force TC-90 training aircraft to the Philippine Navy. BY-ND/Alec Hsu

The Japanese government plans to lease five of its retired training aircraft to the Philippine Navy, according to a report.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the Philippines will use Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force TC-90 for air patrol missions in the South China Sea.

The aircraft currently used by the Philippine Navy for air patrol missions have a short range with a radius of 300 kilometers, according to the report.

The TC-90 aircraft has a radius of action twice of those the in the Philippine Navy and will be able to cover most of the islands in the Spratly Group.

However, the Japanese trainer planes are not equipped with radars and other devices, the Yomiuri Shimbun said. They will only be used for visual monitoring over the Spratly Islands.

READ: Think tank says China building radars in Spratlys

The lease of the  Japanese aircraft will be based on the Three Principles of Transfer on Defense Equipment and Technology, which allows arms exports.

The Philippines is reported to spend millions annually for the lease of the Japanese aircraft.

"While Manila has been asking Tokyo to provide the aircraft as cheaply as possible, it is difficult for Japan to offer national property such as TC-90 aircraft to other countries for free under current law," the Japanese news outlet reported.

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani is expected to visit the Philippines soon to finalize the official agreement on the lease.

Japan is also expected to provide patrol vessels to the Philippines and Vietnam as part of its support for Southeast Asian countries lagging behind China in terms of defense equipment.

Tha Japanese and the Philippine governments recently signed an agreement for the transfer of defense equipment and technology from Tokyo to Manila.

The Philippines is the first country in Southeast Asia and the third in the world to enter into a defense equipment agreement with Japan.

Military: No IS presence in Phl

From the Philippine Star (Mar 5): Military: No IS presence in Phl


Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said there are no verified reports that local terrorist groups are getting support from the IS. AP/Bullit Marquez

The military yesterday maintained there is no direct link between Islamic State (IS) militants and homegrown extremists in the country.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said there are no verified reports that local terrorist groups are getting support from the IS.

“Based on information at hand, there’s no presence of Daesh in the Philippines. It has not been established. There’s no direct relation between the group here and the bigger terror group Daesh out there (Middle East),” Padilla said, referring to the other name of the IS.

Padilla made the statement following reports that gunmen fighting in the name of IS are escalating attacks in Mindanao.

Rodolfo Mendoza, a senior analyst of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said the various local groups that had pledged allegiance to IS were “planning big operations, like bombings, attacks or assassinations.”

The Maute group, a previously obscure group discounted by the military as a small-time extortion gang, launched an assault on a remote army outpost in Mindanao.

The attack triggered a week of fighting that the military said left six soldiers and at least 12 militants dead, and forced more than 30,000 people to flee their homes.

The gunmen flew IS flags during the fighting, and bandanas with the group’s insignia were found when soldiers overran their base, a two-story concrete building, according to the military.

At the same time about 100 kilometers away, soldiers were battling the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a bigger and much better known group that had previously declared allegiance to IS.

But Padilla dismissed the Maute group, saying they are known to align themselves to whoever is popular.

He said the Maute was formerly identified with the now defeated regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah.

“Our analysis remains the same. They are just trying to keep their group known by identifying themselves with the Daesh,” Padilla said.

In any event, the military is on top of the country’s security situation, Padilla said.
He said the AFP has been continuously monitoring the changes in the country’s threat board.

Padilla said the government security sector has contingencies in place in order to address all these concerns in an event the threats are verified as true.

“Working on a worst-case scenario, we have the preparations attuned with this kind of security situation. That’s what we can assure the public,” Padilla said.

He cited the military action against the Maute group following the attack on a remote Army outpost.

The quick military and police action was done if only to show the will and determination of the government to address any unfolding security threats around the country, he said.

“We are not ringing alarm bells here. We are telling people to go with your normal lives, to live normally, to continue with commerce, economic life but with the caveat that you must continue staying alert, staying vigilant, because this is a very important participation of the community that we have been pushing all along,” Padilla said.

Officials regularly said fears of growing IS influence on local terror groups are misplaced.

They said the militants like the Maute group are just criminals interested in money, and not radical Islamist jihadists.

US Navy deploys strike group to South China Sea

From the Philippine Star (Mar 5): US Navy deploys strike group to South China Sea

Photo from the US Navy website shows the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis being escorted by the cruiser Mobile Bay during Exercise Valiant Shield off Guam in 2012. The two warships are part of a US carrier strike group deployed to the South China Sea, where China has installed surface-to-air missiles and built an airstrip on artificial islands.

The United States Navy has deployed a small armada to the South China Sea in what is considered a show of force as tensions rise over China’s construction of artificial islands in disputed waters.

Quoting US military officials, the Navy Times reported that the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, the destroyers Chung-Hoon and Stockdale, cruisers Antietam and Mobile Bay along with the Blue Ridge, command ship of the Japan-based Seventh Fleet, set off recently for the South China Sea, where Beijing has installed surface-to-air missiles and built an airstrip on reclaimed area.

The Blue Ridge is on its way to the Philippines for a port call, while the Antietam, also based in Japan, is conducting a “routine patrol” in the area, the Navy Times reported. It added that the nuclear-powered Stennis deployed from Washington state on Jan. 15.

The recent deployments come amid US accusations that China is “militarizing” the South China Sea – a charge that Beijing has disputed.

Testifying before the US Senate last month, Adm. Harry Harris, chief of the Hawaii-based Pacific Command, told the Armed Service Committee, “In my opinion, China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea… You’d have to believe in a flat Earth to believe otherwise.”

Harris also expressed concern to reporters that China would declare an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea as he noted that Beijing had so far reclaimed nearly 3,000 acres of “military bases” in disputed waters.

An ADIZ would require passing aircraft to identify itself and declare its intentions to China’s aviation authority. International law allows a nation to declare an ADIZ within its territory. But several nations including the Philippines are claiming parts of the South China Sea, which China is claiming almost entirely as its own.

“When they put their advanced missile systems on the Paracels, and when they build three 10,000-foot runways in the Spratlys on the basis that they’ve reclaimed – when they do all of that, they’re changing the operational landscape in the South China Sea,” Harris told reporters at the Pentagon last month. “Short of war, they can rise to the level of having tactical control of the waterways of the South China Sea.”

Beijing lambasted Harris for “sowing discord” and intending “to smear China’s legitimate and reasonable actions” in the disputed area, adding, “He is finding an excuse for US maritime hegemony and muscle-flexing on the sea.”

Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi said “demilitarization” in the area should include the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN foreign ministers, at a recent meeting in Vientiane, Laos, had expressed concern over Chinese actions in the disputed waters.

China has reportedly deployed HQ-9 anti-air warfare missiles on Woody Island in the Paracels near Vietnam while the Chinese single-seat fighter jet Shenyang J-11 was also seen in the area. A high-tech air search radar capable of detecting US stealth aircraft may also be installed, according to reports.

Fu Ying, former Chinese ambassador to Manila and current spokeswoman for China’s National People’s Congress, said it was the US that was sending “the most advanced aircraft and military vessels” to the South China Sea.

She warned that accusing China of militarizing the region could lead to a “miscalculation of the situation.”

Harris is asking the US Congress to approve investments in next-generation anti-surface missiles for the Navy to counter the growing capabilities of potential rivals. He also wants more attack submarines deployed in the region.

Chinese ship towed Filipino boat in Quirino Atoll —AFP Wescom

From GMA News (Mar 4): Chinese ship towed Filipino boat in Quirino Atoll —AFP Wescom

The Chinese ship that was spotted at Quirino Atoll recently was there to tow a Filipino vessel that ran aground, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command said.

Navy Captain Cherryl Tindog, Wescom spokesperson, said that a Chinese rescue and salvage ship towed the Filipino "carrier boat" on February 22.

The whereabouts of the Filipino vessel have yet to be determined, she added.

"Chinese rescue and salvage ship, not [Chinese Coast Guard], was spotted during our patrol on February 22 po," Tindog said in an interview.

"Nung sumunod na mga patrols natin, mga Filipino fishing vessels na lang na nasa-sight natin," she added.

The Filipino vessel ran aground in the Atoll in November.

"Kasi bad weather, e. Kasi di ba ganung period, bad wheater dun so nagkaroon na rin siguro ng discrepancies na-ran aground," Tindog said.

Asked about where the Filipino boat is now, Tindog said, "Hindi namin alam."

"Kinocontact namin sana yung ano, yung sa BFAR, sa [Philippine] Coast Guard , sa Marina, nakipagcoordinate na ba yung may-ari ng boat sa kanila, kasi sila yung may jurisdiction," Tindog said.

"Tayo naman nadaan lang natin na may mga ganung sighting, so hindi natin alam, hindi pa nakapag-coordinate sa amin kung nahanap na ba ng may ari, sinauli ba sa kanila mga ganun," she added.

'To guarantee safety'

China confirmed on Wednesday it had sent vessels to a disputed atoll in the South China Sea to tow a grounded ship and that these vessels have since left the waters.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China's Ministry of Transport had sent vessels to tow the grounded ship.

"To guarantee safety of navigation and of work conditions, China urged fishing vessels near the site to leave," Hong said, adding that China had indisputable sovereignty over the atoll.

It was earlier reported that Chinese ships prevented Filipino fishermen from accessing the fishing grounds, raising tensions in the area.

A newspaper reported that the Chinese had taken over the atoll, which the Wescom said was only 246 kilometers away from Palawan.

China had deployed up to seven ships to Quirino Atoll,  said Eugenio Bito-onon Jr., the mayor of nearby Pagasa Island in the Spratly Islands.

No sustained presence

Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, commander of the military's Western Command, said there was no "sustained presence" by the Chinese Navy in the atoll but added that three to five Chinese Coast Guard ships had been sighted in the area.

"That's inaccurate, that's not true… In so far as we are concerned, there is no continued or sustained presence by the Chinese there," he said.

Lopez said the government will not allow occupation of territories in the disputed waters.

"It's the policy of the government that the government will not allow it," Lopez said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario dismissed as "speculative" the suggestions that the Chinese presence in the atoll was a prelude to a takeover.

“We are monitoring the situation on the ground. According to reports, they are not there today so the theory about occupation may not be accurate because if they are occupying they should be there,” Del Rosario said.

“That’s my take of situation. They may be back tomorrow or they might not,” he said.

Air Force chief steps down next week

From Malaya (Mar 4): Air Force chief steps down next week

A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the list includes AFP deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, a classmate of AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri at   PMA Class 1983.

Another source named Fallorina, Maj. Gen. Raul del Rosario (Class 1984), chief of the 1st Air Division; Maj. Gen. Salvador Melchor Mison (Class 1984), chief of the Air Education and Training Command; and Maj. Gen. Galileo Kintanar (Class 1985), chief of Air Staff.

Other possible successors are 3rd Air Division commander Maj. Gen. Condrado Parra of PMA Class 1983 and AFP deputy chief of staff for plans Maj. Gen. Guillermo Molina of Class 1986.

Delgado is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1982. He assumed the top Air Force post in April 2014.

Canaya said Delgado made his last official visit to Air Force troops at the Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu yesterday. The air base is home to the Air Force’s 2nd Air Division.

He said Delgado chose Maj. Marjorie Mukay, the first female Air Force C-130 pilot, to be pilot-in-command of the C-130 plane which the outgoing Air Force chief boarded during his visit to Cebu.

Mukay graduated 10th in the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2005. She made her maiden flight as C-130 pilot-in-command in November last year, “which is one among the historic milestones” during Delgado’s tenure as Air Force chief, Padilla said.

2 suspects in Saudi slay attempt charged

From The Standard (Mar 4): 2 suspects in Saudi slay attempt charged

THE Zamboanga City police have filed frustrated and attempted murder charges against the two men who are believed to have been accomplices in the shooting of an influential Saudi preacher and a diplomat last Tuesday.

The charges were filed against Mujer Amilahassan and Junaide Cadir, who were tagged as accomplices of gunman Misuari Kiliste Rugasanand, who shot at preacher Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni and religious attaché Sheikh Turki Assaegh at the Western Mindanao State University Tuesday evening.

The two Saudis were shot at close range by Rugasanand as they were leaving the gymnasium of the university, but the police were killed by the victims’ police escorts and the two victims have been declared out of danger.

The two Saudis spoke at the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines in the university and their lectures appeared to be the motive behind the shooting.

Absalom Cerveza, spokesman of the Moro National Liberation Front, said Al-Qarni made strong statements regarding the Sunni and Shiite sectarian conflict in the Middle East and the shooter was apparently a Shiite, a branch of Islam that accounts for five percent or about 350,000 Moros.

Qarni suffered gunshot wounds in the shoulder, left arm and abdomen while Assaegh had bullet wounds in the thigh and leg when a gunman, identified as Misuari Kiliste Rugasanand, 21, an engineering student at MSU, opened fire on them. Lawmen shot and killed the gunman.

Cerveza said Qarni was on a hit list of a still unknown group and said Tuesday’s attack was premeditated.

Reports of Tuesday’s attack spread throughout Zamboanga City and other parts of Mindanao and was the focus of discussion among the Muslim population.

The Ulamas expressed dismay that the country was being dragged into to Middle East sectarian conflict.

Reports said two people from Basilan who were with the gunman were arrested after the shooting.

Meanwhile, senatorial candidate Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Friday denounced the attempted killing.

“The seeming religion-inspired assassination attempt is condemnable in the strongest possible terms. Brutal attacks have no place in a democratic country like ours,” Romualdez stressed.

Reports have it that the influential al-Qarni, who has 12 million followers on social media site Twitter, is on the hit list of the terrorist group Islamic State. The Leyte opposition leader has called on the public to always remain vigilant in the fight against all forms of violence and acts of terrorism that threaten peace and order and the right of all people to freely exercise their political and religious beliefs.

He lamented the continued pattern of attacks by suspected Islamic extremist militants in various parts of the world. Given this, Romualdez pressed authorities to step up its intelligence gathering and immediately put the perpetrators behind bars to ensure that no other similar incidents will happen in the future.

“The incident was so alarming. Our police and military personnel should work double time on their intelligence gathering to spare the public from various acts of terrorism. It is high time for our authorities to step up and arrest the perpetrators,” Romualdez said.

China comments on planned US, India, Japan military exercise in Philippine Sea

From Update.Ph (Mar 4): China comments on planned US, India, Japan military exercise in Philippine Sea  

As a response to the planned exercise of US, India, and Japan – Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei said Thursday, March 3 that China hopes cooperation among relevant countries will contribute to regional peace, stability and security, and no harm shall be done to the interests of a third party.

United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) commander Admiral Harry B. Harris reportedly said that US, India, and Japan will be conducting a joint naval military exercise in northern part of the Philippine Sea this year.

US, India, and Japan are part of naval exercise Malabar with the latest edition conducted October 2015.

“As the world’s two largest democracies, we are uniquely poised to help bring greater security and prosperity to the entire region,” Admiral Harris told audience of Raisina Dialogue, a security forum in New Delhi, India Wednesday. “You need look no further than last October’s Malabar maritime exercise between India, Japan and the United States to see the security inter-connectedness of the Indian Ocean, Asia, and the Pacific Ocean regions.”

United States: We don’t want to see Chinese Navy intimidate Filipino fishermen

From Update.Ph (Mar 4): United States: We don’t want to see Chinese Navy intimidate Filipino fishermen  

“We are aware of these press reports regarding Chinese vessels operating near Jackson (Quirino) Atoll, and these are in contested areas of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea),” United States Department of State spokesperson Mark C. Toner said in a press briefing in Washington, D.C. March 2.

“As we have mentioned before, President Obama and leaders of the ASEAN countries in February at Sunnylands confirmed their commitment to maintain peace, security, safety, including freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities in that region, the South China Sea,” Toner added.

“We don’t want to see them using their ships to exert or to – how do I put this. We don’t want to use them – see them using their ships, their navy to intimidate other fishing vessels in that region,” he added.

Armed Forces of the Philippines – Western Command head Vice Admiral Alexander on Wednesday said the reported Chinese vessels have left the said atoll. “In fact the last air patrol on Feb. 24 reveal that Filipino fishermen are there,” Lopez said.

Most capable guided-missile destroyer joins US forces in Western Pacific

From Update-Ph (Mar 4): Most capable guided-missile destroyer joins US forces in Western Pacific 

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) has entered 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific March 2, the United States Navy said. Barry completed a midlife modernization, making it among the most capable ships in its class.

Barry is replacing USS Lassen (DDG 82).

USS Barry is fitted with the latest Aegis Baseline 9 combat system which includes state of the art air defense, ballistic missile defense, surface warfare and undersea warfare capabilities.

The US Navy said Barry’s presence in the 7th Fleet supports the US Navy’s long range plan to send the most advanced and capable units to the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

“After a strenuous training cycle following a yearlong shipyard period, the excitement from the crew of Barry can be felt throughout the deck plates,” said Cmdr. Jennifer Eaton, commanding officer of Barry.

Barry brings more advanced Link capabilities including Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) to aid interoperability and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, US Navy said.

USS Benfold (DDG 65), also an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer that undergone modernization like Barry, was deployed to 7th Fleet October last year.

In 2017, USS Milius (DDG 69), another modernized Arleigh Burke-class, will also be deployed to 7th Fleet.

US 7th Fleet’s AOR includes 36 maritime countries and the world’s five largest foreign armed forces, People’s Republic of China, Russia, India, North Korea and Republic of Korea. Moreover, five of the seven US Mutual Defense Treaties are with countries in the area, Republic of the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Japan, and Thailand.

Eastmincom calls for speedy probe on Haran attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4): Eastmincom calls for speedy probe on Haran attack

The Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday called for the speedy investigation to the burning of dormitories inside the Haran Compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) here.

In a statement on Thursday to the media, Major Ezra Balagtey, officer-in-charge of the public information office of Eastmincom, said speedy resolution to investigations on Haran attack will allow the identification and bring into justice the perpetrators.

“The Eastern Mindanao Command condemns in the strongest terms the burning of the dormitories at the Haran center and those responsible for the incident,” Balagtey said in the statement.

He added that Eastmincom also joins the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in their call for a speedy investigation of the Haran fire incident so that the perpetrators can be punished and the issue put to rest.

The command also called for an impartial probe into the incident.

“Eastmincom hopes that the investigation will not only be speedy but open and impartial as well,” as it reiterated it will fully “cooperate in the investigation and in efforts to provide assistance to the fire victims.”

Unidentified men in motorcycle burned a building and attempted to set fire the cottages that temporarily housed Lumad families inside the compound last Feb. 24.

The incident that was condemned by various sectors had injured five persons, including a two-year old child.

There are more or less 80 Lumad families from Kitaotao, Bukidnon and from the towns of Kapalong and Talaingod in Davao del Norte that continue to seek refuge inside the compound.