Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Army chief: Maute group is no ISIS

From MindaNews (Mar 24): Army chief: Maute group is no ISIS

The armed group led by the Maute brothers that figured in last month’s clash with government troops in Lanao del Sur is nothing but a band of “guns for hire, bandits,  and extortionists,”  Army Chief Lt. Gen.  Eduardo Ano said on Wednesday.

Ano said the group was mistakenly hyped as ISIS or Islamic State of Syria and Iraq whe it clashed with government troops for two weeks in Butig town, Lanao del Sur last month.

“They were just a bunch of guns for hire, extortionists and bandits who wanted to be recognized as ISIS,” Ano told reporters.

Ano said the group numbering around 100 men, was decimated by the prolonged clashes with Army troops and have scattered in small groups to avoid prosecution.

He said the Philippine National Police is preparing to file criminal charges against the remaining members of the Maute group.

He said he is confident the group will not pose a problem during the synchronized national, local and regional polls in May.

Ano said they received reports the Maute group allegedly offers its services to some politicians in Lanao del Sur.

The Army said three soldiers and at least 20 members of the Maute group including its leader, Omar Maute and his two brothers were killed in last month’s fighting.

At the height of the hostilities in Lanao del Sur, hundreds of VHF amateur radio enthusiasts prevented further escalation of the conflict by going on air spreading information or dispelling rumors.

Ayub Saripada, public information officer of Saksi, the biggest amateur radio group in Lanao del Sur said their 1,000 plus members were monitoring closely the developments of the fighting when they learned that Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander Abdurahman Macapaar aka Commander Bravo issued a crucial statement on February 23 that he and his forces were not involved in the fighting in Butig town and the ambush of a military convoy in Balindong town, all in Lanao del Sur.

In the videotaped interview, Bravo said the MILF was not involved in the fighting in Lanao del Sur. “Hindi po kasali dyan ang MILF” (The MILF is not involved there), he said.

 Bravo also belied reports that he had joined the armed group responsible for the attacks. “Tapat po ako sa MILF dahil ang emir po ng MILF si Al Haj Murad Ebrahim ay ang sinsusunod ay si Allah at ang Prophet Muhammad” (I am loyal to the MILF because our Emir, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim follows Allah and the Prophet Muhammad), Bravo said.

“Bravo’s statement had a calming effect on a very tense situation. Everyone realized he was not breaking the ceasefire between the MILF and the government,”  Army Brig. Gen. Glen Macasero, head of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) said.

The MILF and Philippine government signed a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014, after 17 years of negotiations. The peace process between the parties is on its implementation phase, which includes passing a Bangsamoro Basic Law. No basic law, however, was passed before Congress adjourned on February 3.

The expressed its “deep disappointment and grave dismay” over the non-passage of the BBL” but said it will “continue to uphold the peace process and ensure that all the gains will be preserved.”

Sulu Terrorists' Attempt To Re-establish Sultanate In Sabah A Futile Act - MPSS

From the Malaysian Digest (Mar 23): Sulu Terrorists' Attempt To Re-establish Sultanate In Sabah A Futile Act - MPSS

KOTA KINABALU: The Sulu terrorists' action of appointing a "commander" in each state constituency in Sabah to re-establish the Sulu sultanate in the state has been described as a futile move.
The Sabah Suluk Solidarity Council (MPSS) also views their action as challenging Malaysia's sovereignty.
MPSS secretary, Mohd Zaki Harry Susanto said the action also showed that the Sulu terrorist group was desperate for the support needed to realise their nefarious agenda, considering that the existence of the Sulu sultanate was not recognised in the Philippines.
"They are also trying to manipulate the people's thinking, especially that of the local Suluk community by glorifying the Sulu sultanate of bygone days, and they talk about the 'benefits' the Suluks can enjoy if the Sulu sultanate is brought back to Sabah.
"They have promised a sultanate that is based on Islam which purportedly could re-establish a great Sulu sultanate in the Malay Archipelago."
Mohd Zaki said this following the statement made by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on the matter recently.
He said MPSS hoped for tough action to be taken against those involved in the plot.
"We want people who are loyal to this country, not traitors," said Mohd Zaki who also called for fast and stern action against those with dual citizenship as they could be a threat to the country's sovereignty.
"They are free to come and go, and many of them still consider southern Philippines as their home, thus we fear that they may be involved in various activities including smuggling," he said.

US Navy's Lethal New Destroyer Heads for Final Sea Trials

From The Diplomat (Mar 23): US Navy's Lethal New Destroyer Heads for Final Sea Trials

The guided missile destroyer USS Zumwalt left for final sea trials on Monday.

US Navy's Lethal New Destroyer Heads for Final Sea Trials

The USS Zumwalt, the U.S. Navy’s largest and most expensive guided missile destroyer built to date, has departed the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine for final builder trials in the Atlantic Ocean, USNI News reports.

Construction of the 16,000-ton Zumwalt began in 2008 yet suffered from repeated delays. The USS Zumwalt is slated to be handed over to the U.S. Navy for inspection next month and will be commissioned this October. The first-in-class guided missile destroyer already conducted sea-tests and trials in the Atlantic Ocean in December 2015.

According to a U.S. Navy statement published by USNI News, the current trials will involve many of the Zumwalt’s key systems and technologies, and include demonstrations “on the Advanced Induction Motor (AIM), Integrated Propulsion System (IPS), Boat Handling, and auxiliary systems.”

The statement added that “the Navy-industry team will be conducting numerous operational demonstrations in preparation for Acceptance Trials in April, as well as crew familiarization and counterpart training in support of crew certification, sail away milestones, and commissioning October 15, 2016.”

Once the current trials and tests are completed, the U.S. Navy will conduct rough-weather trials to assess the seaworthiness of the ship. “We go to find the most miserable places in the ocean and drive at various sea stages,” Rear Admiral Peter Fanta, the U.S. Navy’s director of surface warfare, told the Associated  Press. This will be one of the crucial tests for the new vessel. Naval experts have repeatedly raised concerns over the ship’s so-called tumblehome hull and how it will impact the ship’s ability to stay afloat during bad weather periods.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Navy continues to defend the design feature, noting that the “tumblehome ship design has provided a wide array of advancements.” Among those benefits, the Navy argues, “The composite superstructure significantly reduces cross section and acoustic output making the ship harder to detect by enemies at sea. The design also allows for optimal manning with a standard crew size of 175 sailors, with an air detachment of 28 thereby decreasing lifecycle operations and support costs.”

However, next to the large price tag of the new vessel (the lead ship is estimated to cost more than $4.4 billion), it was allegedly the concern over the Zumwalt’s seaworthiness that made the U.S. Navy cut down its order from 32 to three (some sources two) new guided missile destroyers.

Once operational, the new destroyer will be one of the most heavily armed surface naval weapons platforms of the U.S. Navy, capable of striking its targets from a long distance. “Each ship features a battery of two Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) firing Long-Range Land Attack Projectiles (LRLAP) that reach up to 63 nautical miles [72 miles, 115 kilometers], providing a three-fold range improvement in naval surface fires coverage,” according to the U.S. Navy website.

The U.S. Navy is also thinking of arming the Zumwalt with new energy weapons including an electromagnetic railgun. The ship can produce up to 78 megawatts of energy and features a special Integrated Power System (IPS).

Taiwan Argues Its South China Sea Case in the Court of Public Opinion

From The Diplomat (Mar 24): Taiwan Argues Its South China Sea Case in the Court of Public Opinion

Taiwan’s arguments that Itu Aba is, in fact, an island could benefit China in the upcoming arbitration ruling.

Taiwan stepped up its attempt to win public support for its South China Sea claims, inviting reporters to tour one of the disputed islands. Itu Aba – known as Taiping Island in Chinese – is the largest naturally-occurring island in the Spratlys group, and the only feature currently controlled by Taiwan.

On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs took reporters from 10 foreign media outlets – CNN, Al-Jazeera TV, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Reuters, Bloomberg, Kyodo News Agency, and Yomiuri Shimbun – to Itu Aba. The group was scheduled to spend roughly three hours on the island, visiting “a farm, water wells, a hospital, solar generators, a wharf, and a temple dedicated to the goddess Guan Yin,” according to CNA.  

The itinerary was carefully arranged to showcase all the reasons Taiwan claims Itu Aba qualifies as an “island” under the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – something the Philippines challenged in its arbitration case against China. While Taiwan was not named a party in the case – and in fact was prevented from sending observers, due to its precarious international status – its government was alarmed by Manila’s claim that Itu Aba is merely a rock, and thus not entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

With no means of presenting its arguments to the court, Taipei is instead trying to win the battle for public opinion by heavily showcasing Itu Aba’s fresh water, local produce, and buildings. While on Itu Aba, the journalists “drank water from a local well and had lunch prepared from crops and poultry raised on a local farm, testament that the island’s natural environment can sustain human habitation and economic life of its own,” Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. The group also visited the hospital, post office, temple, and solar power facilities on the island.

The media tour was just the latest attempt to prove Itu Aba’s status as an island rather than a rock. In January, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou visited the island himself, where he also emphasized that its classification as an island should be beyond a doubt. “The economic, environmental, and cultural realms all provide evidence sufficient to show that the island has — and has had for over 100 years — ample resources to be self-sufficient,” Ma said at the time.

Wednesday, in a news conference after the media trip had concluded, Ma invited the lawyers for the Philippines’ case, as well as the arbitrators themselves, to visit Itu Aba to judge its status for themselves.

The question of Itu Aba’s status will be a crucial part of the arbitral tribunal’s decision – and not just for Taiwan. If Itu Aba, the largest natural feature in the Spratlys, is not considered an island, it’s hard to imagine the tribunal ruling any of the Spratlys are entitled to a 200 nautical mile EEZ – thus severely limiting the maritime rights any claimant is entitled to based on control of the features, and advantaging littoral states like the Philippines.

If, however, Itu Aba is ruled an island – and thus is able to generate a 200 nautical mile EEZ – the maritime entitlements associated with Itu Aba would cover much of the rest of the Spratlys. And, because the tribunal cannot decide questions of sovereignty, it would leave open the door for all parties – including Beijing – to claim that EEZ.

“If Itu Aba were to be seen as capable of generating a 200 nautical mile EEZ and continental shelf, the whole area which is subject of the case requires a [maritime boundary] delimitation before anything could be decided, and that will take the case out of the jurisdiction of the tribunal,” Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines, explained to
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has more detail, including maps of what the different allowable maritime claims would look like depending on how the island-versus-rock question is decided by the tribunal.

Taiwan may be excluded from formally presenting its arguments before the tribunal, but it’s doing the next best thing: making its case public. The arbitral tribunal previously accepted a Chinese public position paper on the case as a formal legal argument (despite the fact that China has refused to official participate). It may well take Taiwan’s media blitz into consideration – to the benefit of both Taipei and Beijing.

China's Plan for Lawfare in the Maritime Domain

From The Diplomat (Mar 15): China's Plan for Lawfare in the Maritime Domain

“Lawfare” at work in the maritime domain.

China will set up an “international maritime judicial center” to protect the country’s maritime rights and sovereignty claims, China’s top judge told the National People’s Congress on Sunday. Zhou Qiang, the chief justice of the Supreme People’s Court, made the comment while delivering the annual SPC work report. China’s Foreign Ministry clarified that the center will be established this year.

Zhou provided no further details on the proposed center. However, he noted the robust nature of China’s existing maritime courts. According to Zhou, China has the largest number of maritime courts in the world, and heard more maritime cases than any other country last year – around 16,000. Zhou held those figures up as evidence of the courts helping to implement the country’s “important strategies,” including its push to become a “maritime power.”

Zhou was quite clear about the motivation behind such a move. In his report, he said that China’s courts would work to fulfill the national strategy of turning China into a “maritime power.” As part of those efforts, China’s courts will “serve and safeguard the implementation of national strategies such as the ‘Belt and Road’ and [making China] a maritime power and resolutely defend national sovereignty, maritime rights, and other core interests.” Right after those promises, Zhou announced that China will “strengthen the work of maritime cases and construct an international maritime judicial center.”

As an example of how courts might be used to bolster territorial claims, Zhou pointed to a 2014 case heard in a Chinese maritime court. The case dealt with a collision between a Chinese fishing vessel and a cargo ship from Panama near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which are administered by Japan but also claimed by China. Zhou argued that the 2014 case, which was heard by the Xiamen maritime court in Fujian Province, was evidence of China’s jurisdiction over the disputed region. Likewise, any cases involving the East or South China Seas that are heard by China’s upcoming international maritime center will be used to prove Chinese jurisdiction and control over those regions.

This isn’t the first time Zhou has expounded on the role of legal work in solidifying China’s maritime claims. Last December, Zhou attended a meeting on China’s maritime courts in Qingdao, a major port city in Shandong province. There, Zhou emphasized that China must “greatly strengthen the work of maritime cases in order to provide strong legal assistance and safeguards for building a maritime power and implementing the ‘Belt and Road.’” He called China’s maritime courts an “important part” of maritime strategy and control; by exerting judicial control over all development and resource extraction activities within Chinese-administered waters, Zhou said, the courts can defend China’s “blue national soil.”

In that same speech, Zhou raised the idea of an “international maritime judicial center.” In particular, Zhou envisions the maritime judicial center as eventually having “relatively high international influence.” To help achieve that end, Zhou recommended “widely publicizing” influential judgments and important judicial explanations to “endlessly broaden international influence.”

China has made no secret of its ambition to use legal means – “lawfare” – to achieve national security goals (including in the South China Sea). China has, for instance, condemned the Philippines’ resort to international arbitration for the South China Sea disputes largely on legal grounds. Though Beijing has repeatedly refused to participate in the case, its legal scholars nonetheless crafted a document outlining China’s argument that “the Arbitral Tribunal manifestly has no jurisdiction” over the Philippine case (arguments that were considered by the tribunal, though it largely decided in Manila’s favor on the jurisdiction question).

The Philippines’ arbitration case provides the necessary context for China’s interest in setting up its own international maritime judicial center. Recently, China has been experimenting with creating its own alternatives to existing international structures – particularly when it feels the deck is stacked against it in the current system. From the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Beijing sees great value in promoting international or multilateral lateral fora where it can either control the agenda outright or have the largest influence. Where China does not see the international community moving to make space for its rise and respect its interests, Beijing has proven perfectly willing to create its own institutions. Its ultimate goal, as in the case of the international maritime judicial center, is to have these alternative or parallel structures gain international influence, thus altering global systems in China’s favor.

The creation of an international maritime judicial center with Chinese characteristics thus fits into a larger pattern. China will likely say all the rights things – that the center is not meant to usurp other international maritime courts; that it is open to participation from all comers – but in practice, the center will act to establish a parallel judicial center where China’s interpretation of the law rules. Meanwhile, it could serve double-duty by hearing cases related to the South and East China Seas, thus providing evidence of Chinese jurisdiction over disputed areas.

Aquino’s Military Modernization: Unprecedented But Insufficient

From The Diplomat (Mar 23): Aquino’s Military Modernization: Unprecedented But Insufficient (by

Army waiting for more vehicles, artillery pieces

From the Business Mirror (Mar 24): Army waiting for more vehicles, artillery pieces

THE Army expects to receive additional fire-support vehicles and artillery pieces this year, as it boosts its capabilities under the ongoing modernization program of the Armed Forces.

This was revealed by Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año, Army commander, during the service’s 119th anniversary celebration at Fort Andres Bonifacio, Makati City, which was attended by top defense and military officials.

“We are also expecting the arrival this year of additional infantry fighting and fire-support vehicles, 155-millimeter howitzers, light- utility vehicles, 60-mm mortars, 40-mm grenade launchers, rocket launcher light units and 50-watt armored vehicle-configuration radios,” Año said.

He said the equipment should allow the Army to respond to challenges against national security, including those coming from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Abu Sayyaf and other threat groups.

Año said that last year, the Army received its delivery of 56,843 pieces of M-4 carbines, 124 armored vehicles, including six armored vehicles with remote-controlled weapon systems and more than 300 light-utility vehicles.

The armored vehicles included those that have been delivered by Elbit Systems of Israel and the US, which turned over refurbished APCs under its Excess Defense Article program.

“These deliveries will beef up our ground forces in conventional or unconventional fighting,” Año said.

Likewise, the Army chief said the service has received more than 2,000 radio transceivers and other communication equipment for effective command and control system.

Meanwhile, a senior officer partly blamed for the slaughter of 44 Special Action Force members during an antiterrorism operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last year, led this year the Army’s awardees.

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Sixth Infantry Kampilan Division, was recognized for his “role in promoting peace, reconciliation and development in Central Mindanao.”

The Army said Pangilinan “received the Gawad sa Kapayapaan award for his significant contributions to internal peace and security and for supporting the government’s peace initiatives in Central Mindanao.” Rene Acosta.

Pangilinan was the commander who failed or had refused to send military assets, including helicopters to the police commandos when they were pinned down by combined BIFF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front Fighters during the operations against regional terrorist and bomber Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.

During an investigation that was conducted by the Senate, senators and police officials claimed that had Pangilinan said the much needed support, the lives of most of the commandos could have been saved.

Twenty three other Army personnel and civilians were also recognized during the anniversary celebration, including Col. Juvymax Uy, who was conferred with the Philippine Legion of Honor (Degree of Legionnaire) for his services as Group Commander of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Group, and Lt. Col. Francisco Millare, commander of the 77th Infantry Battalion, who was given the Outstanding Achievement Medal.

2 civilians executed by withdrawing Abu Sayyaf men in Basilan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 23): 2 civilians executed by withdrawing Abu Sayyaf men in Basilan

Tausug-speaking Abu Sayyaf members executed two civilians at the height of an encounter in Al Barka town, Basilan, on Wednesday afternoon.

Al Barka Mayor Darussalam Lajid confirmed the killing of two male residents.
He said one of the victims was a 50-year old man.

“They were in the vicinity at the height of the firefight, and unfortunately, they were spotted by the withdrawing ASG who were all from Jolo (Sulu) because they only spoke Tausug,” the mayor said.

The first clash happend at 9 a.m. when members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front attacked the Abu Sayyaf that left three bandits dead.

Another clash erupted at 4 p.m.

MILF rebels, Abu Sayyaf bandits clash in Basilan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 23): MILF rebels, Abu Sayyaf bandits clash in Basilan
Moro rebels ambushed a group of bandits in Al Barka town in Basilan on Wednesday morning.

Maj. Gen. Demy Tejares, deputy commander of Task Force Zambasulta, said initial reports revealed that a bandit was killed when members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ambushed an Abu Sayyaf group in in Sitio Bughaki, Linuan village of Al Barka town.

Tejares said fighting lasted for about 10 minutes.
But a military source, who asked not to be named as he has no authority to speak on the matter, said three bandits were killed.

The source said the Abu Sayyaf was led by Isnilon Hapilon, while the MILF rebels belonged to the group of Pulung Pulalon.

The Inquirer source said the MILF earlier warned the bandits to leave Sitio Bohe Buug in Al Barka, but instead of vacating the place, Hapilon’s men harassed the women in the area.

5 Marines hurt in clash with BIFF

From the Philippine Star (Mar 24): 5 Marines hurt in clash with BIFF

Five Marines were wounded in a series of encounters with suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao on Tuesday.

The gunfight erupted when BIFF gunmen attacked the Marines patrolling Barangay Andavit in Datu Salibo around 7 p.m., members of the municipal peace and order councils in Datu Salibo told The STAR.

The bandits were reportedly led by a certain Hohaiden Animbang, Zacaria Mendo and Ibad Damiog.

Nine BIFF bandits, five of them identified as Samsudin, Moktar, Alimudin, Pagal and Buhari, were also wounded.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the 6th Infantry Division, said clearing operations would continue during the Holy Week.

In Agusan del Sur, two soldiers and a communist rebel were wounded in a clash yesterday morning.

Col. Noel Detoyato, Armed Forces of the Philippines-public affairs office chief, said the victims were identified as Cpl. Melvin Loretero, Pfc. Ybon Bedia and New People’s Army medic Reynaldo Yamson.

The encounter occurred in Sitio Alimot, Barangay Salvacion in Trento town around 8:30 a.m.

The troops recovered an AK-47 rifle, five improvised explosive devices and subversive documents.

Army thanks Noy for support, concern

From the Philippine Star (Mar 23): Army thanks Noy for support, concern

President Aquino looks on as government troopers ride on armored personnel carriers during the 119th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City yesterday.

Celebrating their founding anniversary with President Aquino for the last time yesterday, Army troops and officers thanked their commander-in-chief for the “support and concern” of the Chief Executive, who has been like a good father to the military.

Army personnel expressed their gratitude to Aquino during their pass in review at the end of the ceremony for their 119th founding anniversary held in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

In one of the floats where the Army showcased its role in relief and rescue operations in times of disasters, their message read: “Mahal na Pangulo, marami pong salamat sa suporta at malasakit (To our dear President, thank you for the support and concern).”

In his speech, the President told the Army he could not help but be personal because “we have come full circle.”

“You know, when I was still very young and most probably those from my generation would remember this: There was a TV series titled ‘Combat.’ Because of this, I would say I wanted to be a soldier... There was no PlayStation yet at the time, so our games were about cowboys and Indians and toy guns,” Aquino said.

But when martial law came, the President said his view about soldiers changed because right in Fort Bonifacio and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, his late father, the martyred former senator Benigno Jr., was detained for seven years and seven months for opposing the dictatorship.

Aquino said it was during this time that he and his family met Voltaire Gazmin, now defense secretary, who was one of his father’s guards who treated him decently.

“…because of his professionalism, Secretary Gazmin’s reward from the dictatorship: getting thrown to Mindanao from 1975 to 1986,” the President said.

“If I may stress: the detention cell of my father and many others were preserved as a reminder of that chapter in our history when the Armed Forces was used and led astray by the one who promised to serve the nation,” Aquino said.

The President said many of those from the military indeed went astray, thinking that they were adhering to the Constitution by following the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“You were alienated from the people and one of its results was the number of NPA (New People’s Army) members that ballooned from 60 to 25,000 armed people in its ranks by the end of martial law,” the President said.

But with the guidance of his mother Corazon, who assumed the presidency after the dictator was ousted in 1986, the Armed Forces of the Philippines went back to the side of the people.

Aquino said he continued with the legacy and took care of the military and the rest of the uniformed services.

The nation also returned the military’s service with a more solid concern for their success, including in the operations against Communist Party of the Philippines acting chair Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, the CPP secretary-general and Eugenia Magpantay-Topacio, the secretary of CPP-NPA’s Central Luzon Regional Committee, who are now all under detention.

Under his administration, the President said the Army implemented 1.3 million operations against enemies of the state and completely freed 50 out of 76 provinces affected by NPA’s atrocities.

“This is the image that you will leave behind to the ordinary Filipino: a Philippine Army and Armed Forces that are always reliable, a partner in pushing for stability and order in our communities. From here sprang the confidence needed to advance progress,” Aquino said.

Aquino said the Army had been on the frontlines every time typhoons and other disasters would strike the country – from clearing roads to rescuing people and bringing relief and assistance, like during Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

“In all these actions, you knew that our bosses (the people) were behind you, and in the end, a virtuous cycle of trust, cooperation and positive transformation for the good of everyone was developed,” the President.

“This is the Army and AFP that I will pass on as commander-in-chief bidding farewell: A force with a very high morale and very much ready to face any challenge; a force that carries with it the recognition and respect of the people; a force that is professional and with strong principles,” Aquino said.

The President said it was a great honor to serve as their leader and commander-in-chief treading the straight path.

“Someday, I can look back at this point of history with pride: With the Army and the rest of the AFP, we did the right thing and lived up to the truth that ‘The Filipino is definitely worth fighting for,’” Aquino said, thanking all of those composing the Army.

Stay neutral

Having been like a father who could not bear to neglect the needs of his children, Aquino said he was hoping the Army and the military would make use of its “monopoly of armed power” to push for whatever was right and justiciable that would bring the country to a better, fairer and more peaceful tomorrow.

“That is why, this coming elections, the people’s order to us is clear: Stay on their side, do not meddle in politics and ensure that a united voice in a country treading the path of democracy will prevail,” the President said.

In fulfilling their mandate, Aquino said Gazmin, AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri and Army chief Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año would provide them guidance.

Aquino then enumerated the programs and projects of his government for the modernization of the military and said these were bigger than that of the past three administrations combined.

He said the Army commanding general himself cited the modern assets that were now in the hands of their force.

Out of the 68 big ticket projects worth P58.43 billion for the AFP, 26 or P7.79 billion went to the improvement of the Army’s knowledge, capabilities and awareness, Aquino said.

Año announced the Army had acquired new armored assets as well as other war-fighting equipment.

“We already have received 56,843 new R4 assault rifles to replace the Vietnam-era rifles we are currently using, 124 units of armored vehicles to include six armored vehicles with remote-controlled weapon systems, 60 field ambulance units and more than 300 light utility vehicles,” he said.

He added the Army’s command-and-control effectiveness in any kind of field operations greatly improved with the acquisition of more than 2,000 radios and other communication equipment.

The Army is also expecting deliveries this year of additional infantry fighting vehicles and fire support vehicles, 155 mm howitzers, light utility vehicles, 60 mm mortars, 40 mm grenade launchers, rocket launchers and 50-watt armored vehicle configuration radios.

The Army Transformation Roadmap from 2010 to 2028 was also implemented to strengthen the culture of effectiveness and good governance within their ranks.

Some 61,000 housing units were also completed under the AFP-Philippine National Police Housing Program and the President said Army personnel were among the beneficiaries.

The President also said livelihood programs were launched in various military camps along with assistance for medical and other needs.

Aquino said monthly combat pay for military members in operation was increased along with the subsistence allowance for everyone in the uniformed sector. Aquino signed Executive Order No. 201 covering the raise in their monthly hazard pay as well as provisional and officers’ allowances.

Businessman, grandson abducted in Zamboanga del Sur

ABS-CBN (Mar 24): Businessman, grandson abducted in Zamboanga del Sur

A 75-year old businessman and his 25-year old grandson were abducted in their residence in Barangay Maruing, Lapuyan, Zamboanga del Sur at about 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

According to Senior Inspector Roger Bartiana, police chief of Lapuyan, about six armed men with high-powered guns took Antonio Tan and his grandson Ri-an Nuneza by force and embarked them on a blue-colored triple-engine pump boat. A white-colored pump boat, suspected to be a back-up getaway vehicle, was also sighted.

Bartiana added suspects were wearing police uniforms and introduced themselves as police officers who will conduct raid for drug dealing in the area.

Investigation is currently ongoing. Authorities are conducting seaborne patrol in hopes of finding leads on the victims’ location.

Fake military general nabbed in Bataan over rank-for-a-fee racket

From GMA News (Mar 23): Fake military general nabbed in Bataan over rank-for-a-fee racket

Authorities arrested a man posing as a military general and recruiting men to join the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in exchange for cash, an exclusive report on "Balitanghali" said Wednesday.

The suspected con artist was identified as Orlando Escobar Pablico, who was arrested by members of the police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Philippine Army Intelligence Group at his "safe house" in Hermosa, Bataan.

According to GMA News' Emil Sumangil's report, Pablico is part of the group that dangles military positions for a fee depending on the rank that the applicant wished to reach.

The charges are P10,000 for sergeant), P20,000 for lieutenant and P30,000 or more for the rank of colonel and above.

The report said Pablico's group was able to dupe people because they allegedly looked like snappy commanders and its recruits had little understanding of the military training modules.

Photos recovered during the raid showed Pablico at an event with legitimate AFP officials. He was also photographed doing live firing exercises with his recruits.

Authorities also recovered explosives from Pablico's house. Pablico, who is facing charges of robbery and extortion, denied in an interview with GMA News his participation in the scam.

He admitted though that he has received money from the group for wearing a military uniform. Authorities meanwhile asked victims to come forward and coordinate with CIDG-National Capital Region to process their complaints.

2 men kidnapped in Zamboanga — AFP

From GMA News (Mar 24): 2 men kidnapped in Zamboanga — AFP

Two men were abducted by eight suspects equipped with high-powered firearms at Barangay Maruing, Lapuyan town in Zamboanga del Sur on Wednesday, said a military official.
Antonio Tan, about 70 years old, and his grandson Rayray Tan, who is about 20 years old were kidnapped and were brought by their abductors onboard two motorized pump boats towards the direction of the town of Malangas, according to AFP Western Mindanao command spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan.
The 53rd Infantry Battalion and the 6th Special Forces Battalion are conducting pursuit operations.

Philippine Army celebrates 119TH founding anniversary

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 23): Philippine Army celebrates 119TH founding anniversary  

PAGADIAN CITY – The first Infantry (Tabak) Division (1ID), Philippine Army in collaboration with the 1st Cavalry (Tagapanguna) Squadron, Mechanized Infantry Division, and 1st Field Artillery Battalion (FAB), Army Artillery Regiment held a static capability display and information caravan on March 21-22 at Gaisano Capital Mall, this city.

The activity was held in celebration of the 119th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army with the theme “Serving the people, securing the land.”

LtCol. Benedicto Manquiquis, commanding officer of the 1st Civil Military Operations Unit (1CMOU) said the activities showcased the army’s capabilities to the public such as war fighting equipment, humanitarian assistance, disaster capabilities and recruitment program.

Part of the celebration included static display of weapons, squad demonstration, photo gallery, audio-visual presentation, army recruitment booth and concert for the public to be aware of the programs and services of the Philippine Army.

“We are doing these activities annually to highlight the founding anniversary of the Philippine Army and to show our younger generation the capabilities of the institution,” Manquiquis said.

Capt. Marvin Aquino of the 1st Cavalry Squadron said the unit provided support services by sending two (2) Simba armored personnel carrier and combat ambulance.

“We are displaying the Simba armored personnel carrier (APC) for the public to be aware of the war fighting capabilities of the Army,” Aquino said.

“We also want to remove the stigma that weapons are just for war by allowing the public to ride the vehicles,” Aquino said, adding that it is the usual impression of the public that whenever they see APCs, there is war.

1st FAB civil-military operations officer Captain Holly John Godinez said the unit sent one (1) M101A1 105 mm Light Howitzer to support the activities initiated by the 1ID.

“We sent light field artillery weapon to be included in the static display as our support in the celebration of the 119th founding anniversary of the Philippine Army,” Godinez said.

“The public can touch and even take souvenir pictures of the weapon,” Godinez said. The light howitzer was used during the clashes between the AFP and extremist group in Butig, Lanao del Sur.

US, SG, PH, MY, ID naval forces leaders meet

From Update.Ph (Mar 23): US, SG, PH, MY, ID naval forces leaders meet  

Naval forces leaders from United States 7th Fleet, Republic of Singapore Navy, Royal Malaysian Navy, Philippine Navy and Indonesian Navy gathered aboard the US 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) in Singapore for a professional exchange of ideas to discuss operational topics March 19 and 20.

US 7th Fleet said the meeting was designed for the participating Indo-Asia-Pacific navies to share knowledge and discuss lessons learned within the region.

“During a 7th Fleet-hosted Southeast Asian Fleet Commander’s Roundtable, senior navy leaders from the five nations had professional dialogues on various maritime issues such as multilateral exercises, freedom of navigation operations and maritime law, rules and norms. They also discussed ways to increase theater security cooperation through multilateral military interactions,” US 7th Fleet added.

“From a 7th Fleet point of view, I really want to train together, I really believe in multilateralism,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of U.S. 7th Fleet. “I think it’s very important for us to operate very closely in exercises with navies in this region. That will only make us stronger, and will enable us to help with security, not only for man-made issues, but for natural disasters as well.”

Philippine Army creating division for territorial defense

From Update.Ph (Mar 23): Philippine Army creating division for territorial defense

The Philippine Army will be transforming one of its Divisions for territorial defense. This was disclosed by Philippine Army Commanding General Lieutenant General Eduardo Año to ANC’s Talkback with Tina Monson Palma.

The transformation of an Army division into a territorial defense-ready force is in line with the Army’s vision of transforming its troops into a world-class army.

The Army General said Fort Magsaysay, an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) location, is being developed as a combat training area. “Fort Magsaysay is home to many army units, and most of our training exercises are done in Fort Magsaysay,” he said.

“Dahil EDCA site ito, mas mapapaganda ang ating facilities dito, in time for our strategy direction of designating a territorial defense division. We are now planning to start developing one division into a territorial defense division,” General Año said.

On Tuesday, March 22 the Philippine Army celebrated its 119th founding anniversary.

The Army announced that it has conducted 300,000 “focused military operations” which has resulted in the neutralization of 743 rebels, terrrorists and lawless elements.

General Año said these figures can be broken down into 595 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels; 82 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists; 10 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and 56 Jemaah Islamiyah facilitators of the Maute Group.

Son of senior Sayyaf leader killed in MILF ambush in Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 23): Son of senior Sayyaf leader killed in MILF ambush in Philippines

Muslim rebels, who signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014, shot and killed a son of a key Abu Sayyaf leader in an ambush Wednesday in Basilan province in the troubled Muslim region in Southern Philippines, military reports said.

It said about 10 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front attacked a group of Abu Sayyaf fighters under Isnilon Hapilon and killed his son Haipa near an MILF base. The ambush sparked a 10-minute, but ferocious firefight in the village of Macalang in Al-Barka town, a stronghold of the MILF.

MILF gunmen also seized Haipa’s automatic weapon before heading back to their village in Guinanta, also in Al-Barka.

The Abu Sayyaf fighters were reported to be trying to set up a camp in the area which the villagers and the MILF strongly opposed before being challenged by the jihadist group.

Just recently, President Aquino visited the province and inaugurated the completed 135-kilometer circumferential road, but not after Abu Sayyaf fighters attacked patrolling troops and exploded a grenade and an improvised explosive in Sumisip town.

There was no immediate statement from the MILF about the clash, but both groups had repeatedly engaged in violent confrontation in the past over control in restive province.

Basilan has become the bastion of power of the Abu Sayyaf after it pledged allegiance anew to the caliph of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and named new leaders aligned with the international Islamic extremist group.

In a propaganda video released by the Abu Sayyaf and picked up by international media, more than two dozen gunmen – including child warriors – led by Isnilon were seen hiking in the hinterlands of Basilan while chanting the “Dawlah Islamiyah (Islamic State)” after which they recited an Arabic script of  bayah or pledge of allegiance.

Isnilon, alias Abu Abdullah, was named as the new leader of the “Harakatul Islamiyah” (Islamic Movement)” the new name given to the Abu Sayyaf by its founder Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani who was slain in a police shootout in Basilan in December 1998.

The Abu Sayyaf evolved to a notorious group known for having carried out kidnappings, bombings and other criminal activities in southern Philippines. The US government has offered a $5 million bounty for Isnilon Hapilon’s head – dead or alive.

In the video, Hapilon was shown with Abu Harith Al-Filibbieni , who is reported to be deputy commander of the al-Ansar Infantry Division of the ISIS, and Mohd Najib Husen (Hussein) alias Abu Annas Al Muhajir, a division head of the Ansar al-Sharia of the ISIS.

The rebels explained in the video that they had previously done the bayah, but did it again in front of their new leaders. It was unknown when the video was recorded, but it was released just after the military’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City claimed in December last year that Husen was killed during offensive operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.

Husen was with other Malaysian jihadists – Mahmud Ahmad, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, Amin Baco and Jeknal Adil – who fled to southern Philippines reportedly to recruit militants and send them to “Dar al-Harb (place of war),” referring to Syria and Iraq, where the ISIS established its own caliphate state.

The Abu Sayyaf is now using the Daesh flag and also the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement and other radical groups in Lanao del Sur, also in the Muslim autonomous region where local militants of the Ghuraba (Strangers) – both the Ghuraba and Khilafah Islamiyah Movement are headed by a leader called Humam Abdul Najid, who was implicated in the 2013 Cagayan de Oro City bombings.

Army: No let up in operation vs. BIFF in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23): Army: No let up in operation vs. BIFF in Maguindanao

There's no let up in operations against lawless Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao even during the Holy Week, the military here said.

Capt. Joann Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said on Tuesday BIFF members harassed government forces stationed in Sitio Blas, Barangay Tee, Datu Salibo Maguinanao when attacked.

A brief fire fight erupted.

"We expect them to launch attacks on our troops during the Holy Week," she said. "But our troops will not go to holiday, we will continue clearing operations, at break time our troops can pray," she added.

Abu Misri Mama, speaking for the BIFF, said the BIFF will continue "hit and run" attacks even during Good Friday.

He said in Filipino that his group will not stop offensives against the Army "especially if they are not prepared, when they lower their guards, we will hit them."

But Petinglay downplayed Mama's statement saying the BIFF has resorted to plain and simple terrorism by planting improvised bombs even on areas regularly used by civilians and non-combatants.

According to Petinglay, the Army will continue clearing operations in Datu Salibo where the BIFF used to operate and launched their terror activities.

The Army recovered the area near the Liguasan marshland in Maguindanao where a flood control project had been going on.

"We are sad the BIFF targets even civilians by putting up bombs on road side along the Maguindanao-Sultan Kudarat national highway," she said.

Lt. Colonel Warlito Limet, commander of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, the BIFF has reduced to smaller groups for it cannot face the Army might and strength. "It cannot sustain a full blown war," he said of the group.

Since Feb. 5, when the BIFF stopped and torched two heavy equipment of a construction firm working on the flood control project, at least five soldiers were killed by improvised bomb explosion and more than 30 others hurt.

Unconfirmed reports showed more than 30 BIFF have been killed during the month-long skirmishes but the Army would neither confirm nor deny the reported number of BIFF fatalities.

A village official said BIFF normally kept their fatalities under wraps and bury them right away according to Islamic tradition.

The project has been ongoing since late last month with Army Special Forces and a contingent of Philippine Marines providing the perimeter security.

The government is constructing a PHP58 million worth of flood control project aimed at saving Muslim farmers' lives and crops when the rainy season comes.

Extortion was the main triggering issue in Datu Salibo because the BIFF wanted to mulct the construction firm, according to military officials.

Petinglay said the soldiers will continue clearing the captured BIFF stronghold of bombs before the Army will recommend the return of displaced families.

Army on red alert as 3 NPAs killed in 3 clashes

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23): Army on red alert as 3 NPAs killed in 3 clashes

The Philippine Army in Bicol is on alert as three unidentified members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were killed in three separate encounters in Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte on Monday, a military official said Wednesday.

Brigadier Gen. Allan F. Martin, deputy commander of the 9th Infantry Division in Bicol, said they anticipated the increased movement of the NPA rebels as the anniversary of the NPA founding on March 29 nears.

Martin said they are on the lookout to the plenum of the central committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which activity is expected to happen in time for the NPA foundation day.

Col. Ferozaldo Paul T. Regencia, deputy commander of the 902nd Infantry Brigade operating in Camarines Norte, said there were two encounters in Camarines Norte on March 21.

Regencia said the first encounter happened in Alanaw, Lupi, Camarines Sur about 6 a.m., 28 km from the second encounter at past 5 p.m. in Barangay San Rafael, Basud, Camarines Norte where two unidentified male NPA rebels were killed in the firefight.

He said that in the first encounter, the Army recovered from the site backpacks, personal belongings and documents.

M16 rifle, M203, live bullets and 14 improvised explosive devices, including wires, were recovered, the Army officer added.

Regencia said the Army was able to figure out that the NPA rebels were about to attack a bigger detachment in Alanaw, Lupi, Camarines Sur but they were prevented by the government security forces.

He said the Army helicopter was able to retrieve the bodies of the two unidentified NPA rebels at past 11 a.m. on Tuesday, which were brought to the police station of Basud town for identification and relatives to claim them.

Lt. Col. Arnel B. Bautista, commanding officer involved in the operation on Monday, said they believe the heightened armed activities of the NPA were related to the celebration of the 47th founding anniversary of the NPA.

Bautista said they are trying to analyze where the big number of about 30 NPA rebels came from and they suspected that they may have come from different provinces in Bicol.​

On the same day, another NPA rebel was also killed in a separate encounter in Barangay Antolon, Caramoan, Camarines Sur with no casualty on the side of the government security forces.

Western Visayas avails more than Php108.6-M incentive fund from Kalahi-MCC

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23): Western Visayas avails more than Php108.6-M incentive fund from Kalahi-MCC

Five local government units in Western Visayas have availed of more than Php108.6 million incentive fund from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) after showing good performance in the implementation of the Kapitbisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KC).

MCC has infused USD12 million as incentive in addition to the USD120-million grant for the KC-MCC that is set to culminate in May this year. The program benefited six regions, including Western Visayas.

“They have performed well in the past so we have decided to use this amount as an incentive grant,” Tomi A. Cabueños Jr., national program manager of KALAHI-CIDSS, said during Tuesday’s learning forum here.

The five LGUs were identified as best implementer for the past three years. The town of Sibunag in Guimaras availed of Php35 million for its road projects, the biggest among the chosen LGUs.

On Monday, the project was already turned over to the recipient town, which also extended a Php5-million counterpart fund.

The four LGUs are based in Aklan namely Madalag and Tangalan with Php20 million each; Libacao, Php14 million and Ibajay with Php19. 6 million for their road projects.

The KC-MCC is being funded by the government of the United States of America.

On Tuesday, MCC resident country director John A. Polk said that the country is eligible for another fund agreement in the future given the successful implementation of the five-year program.

Lamitan City’s No. 2 most wanted person falls

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23): Lamitan City’s No. 2 most wanted person falls

Police and military forces arrested Tuesday one of the most wanted persons in Lamitan City, Basilan province and seized explosives and ammunition from the suspect.

Senior Insp. Gean Gallardo, Lamitan City police chief, identified the arrested suspect as Masalan Sattatal, 74, a resident of Barangay Parangbasak, in that city.

Gallardo said Sattatal, who has pending criminal cases in court, is listed as the No. 2 most wanted person in Lamitan City.

He said the arresting team confiscated from the suspect’s possession two rifle grenades, 343 rounds of ammunition for M-16 Armalite rifle, and seven M-16 magazines.

He said the suspect is detained while appropriate charges are set to be filed against him.

NASA launches first PHL satellite Diwata-1 to ISS

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23): NASA launches first PHL satellite Diwata-1 to ISS

The Philippines' first microsatellite, the Diwata-1, was officially launched to the International Space Station (ISS) Wednesday at around 11:05 a.m. (Philippine Standard Time).

Diwata-1 is among the 3,395 kilograms (7,485 lb) of science gear, crew supplies and vehicle hardware cargo that Cygnus spacecraft lift off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, USA, at 11:05 p.m. of March 22, Eastern Standard Time.

The launch was part of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) commercial provider Orbital ATK's fifth mission, and Cygnus' second flight atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Officials from Florida earlier forecast a 90 percent chance of favorable weather for the launch of Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS.

Also, the crew explored advanced space science and reviewed their roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency aboard the station.

Minutes before the launch, NASA also cited good weather and no interference from the sun.

At the ISS, Diwata-1 will be housed in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), nicknamed "Kibo." Towards the end of April, the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) will release Diwata-1 into space at an altitude of 400 kilometers from the earth’s surface.

The country's first microsatellite is expected to be in orbit for approximately 18-20 months and will be imaging the country twice daily.

Diwata-1 has four cameras that would continuously take pictures of the Philippines. These images will be used for research and in remote sensing.

Remote sensing “is a necessary technology for monitoring weather, disasters, as well as environmental issues” as described by Kohei Cho, Asian Association on Remote Sensing (AARS) general secretary.

Remote sensing has been proven to be capable of monitoring El Niño, too, according to Enrico Paringit during the 36th Asian Conference on Remote Sensing (ACRS) held in the Philippines last year.

Diwata-1 was assembled by nine young Filipino engineers who were stationed in Japan to undergo an extensive course about microsatellite. The team had almost a year to finish the assembly and testing of Diwata-1 that weighs 50 kg and is about the size of a "balikbayan box".

The microsatellite passed the component tests, first vibration tests, post-vibration electrical tests, off-gas test and fit checking according to PCIEERD. There was a continuous functionality tests of modules and sensors and software optimization.

PNP steps up security measures on Holy Week

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23): PNP steps up security measures on Holy Week

Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Police Director General Ricardo C Marquez on Wednesday has reminded all units to secure vital installations and implement tight security measures in relation to the operational guidelines of the PNP dubbed as “Ligtas SUMVAC 2016”.

PNP Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor, PNP spokesman said the PNP Chief has directed all police units nationwide to intensify security to ensure public safety during the Holy Week.

According to Mayor, Police Chief Superintendent Pablo Francisco Balagtas, Director of Aviation Security Group, had deployed additional personnel in NAIA airport and requested Regional Directors to augment other airports in the country.

Mayor said that among the measures for Holy Week and summer vacation include setting up of Police Assistance Desks/Centers (PADs/Cs) and Road Safety Marshals in convergence points.

These are to be implemented in areas like airports, seaports, train stations, highways, main thoroughfares and crime-prone areas, recreational areas, churches and other places where people tend to congregate during the Lenten season .

Mayor said that total of 64,635 policemen to be deployed in the entire country to secure 17,976 place of convergence and 4,560 transportation hubs and terminals.

He said that there have been no validated reports of terror threats in Metro Manila while security forces and intelligence elements are continuously on alert.

He added the PNP assures the public that sufficient units are on standby, ready to respond to any situation and act on contingencies.

Mayor noted that the public’s social responsibility and cooperation is very vital in preventing crime in the community. Thus, the PNP leadership encourages the public to provide the police with relevant and timely information through social media (Twitter @pnppio and @pnphotline or PNP Facebook page) and Isumbong Mo Kay TSIP hotline at 0917-8475757.

DND anti-submarine project helicopter awarded to AgustaWestland

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 23): DND anti-submarine project helicopter awarded to AgustaWestland

The contract for the Philippine Navy (PN)'s first two anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters was awarded to Anglo-Italian aircraft manufacturer AgustaWestland.

This was confirmed by Department of National Defense (DND) undersecretary for finance, munition, materiel and modernization Fernando Manalo in a message to the PNA Wednesday.

But he did not give the exact date of the contract awarding.

Manalo earlier said in January that AgustaWestland is now undergoing post-qualification checks after being selected as sole proponent of the DND's PHP5.4 billion ASW helicopter project.

Post-qualification refers to the background check to determine the capability of the manufacturer to deliver the equipment on time and comply with the specifications requested by the contracting party.

AgustaWestland was selected by the DND as the possible supplier of its two ASW helicopters late in 2015.

Manalo said AgustaWestland offered the Philippines its brand-new AW-159 "Wildcat" anti-submarine helicopter.

The AW-159 (previously called the Future Lynx and Lynx Wildcat) is an improved version of the Westland Super Lynx military helicopter.

It is ordered for the British Army and the United Kingdom's Royal Navy.

It has a crew of two, has a maximum speed of 291 km/h (181 mph), range of 777 km (483 miles), ferry range of 963 km (598 miles) and an endurance of one and a-half hours (fours hours and 30 minutes if fitted with auxiliary fuel)

The AW-159 is fitted with forward firing CRV7 rockets and machine guns, pintle mounted machine gun, Sea Skua missiles and Sting-Ray torpedoes and depth charges.

The ASW helicopter project is one of the seven military modernization projects which President Benigno S. Aquino III has given DND the green-light to go into a "multi-year contract" last November.

Projects placed under the "multi-year contract" include the two missile-armed frigates, eight amphibious assault vehicles, two long-range patrol aircraft, six close-air support aircraft, munition for the brand-new FA-50PH jet fighters and surveillance radars.

Payment from the seven projects will run from 2015 to 2018.

Granting of the "multi-year contract" will allow to pursue the military modernization program beyond Aquino's term, he added.

Total value of the seven projects is about PHP44 billion.