Sunday, March 27, 2016

Subic fishers returning to Panatag

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 28): Subic fishers returning to Panatag

Fishing boat JJ-3 docks at the coastal water of Subic, Zambales after a two-week fishing venture in the West Philippine Sea. According to its crew, the vessel was chased and damaged by the Chinese coast guard patrolling the Panatag Shoal on March 7. PHOTO BY ALLAN MACATUNO

Fishing boat JJ-3 docks at the coastal water of Subic, Zambales after a two-week fishing venture in the West Philippine Sea. According to its crew, the vessel was chased and damaged by the Chinese coast guard patrolling the Panatag Shoal on March 7. PHOTO BY ALLAN MACATUN

Unfazed by their recent encounter with Chinese Coast Guards, local fishermen said they are preparing to return to the Panatag Shoal to assert their right to fish.

Fisherman Ronald Arciete, 31, said Chinese patrol boats have chased them away but that would not prevent them from returning to make a living by fishing in the shoal.

Arciete’s group arrived here on March 24 after a two-week fishing trip to the West Philippine Sea.

“[But] we will go back [to the shoal]. We are not scared, but we will be cautious. In five days or so, we will sail back to the shoal,” Arciete said on Saturday.

Arciete was part of a crew of fishing vessel, FB JJ-3, which engaged  Chinese Coast Guard vessels by pelting them with rocks.

According to him, the glass windows of their boat were shattered during a two-hour standoff with the Chinese on March 7.

“They told us to leave but we decided to stay. We threw fist-sized rocks at them to prevent them from approaching us but they also hurled stones at us,” he said.

Within territory

Fishermen sail with rocks which they used to weigh down fishing lines once they reach the contested shoal located 230 kilometers from Masinloc town, Zambales province, well within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

It is also known as Bajo de Masinloc to residents of this coastal town.

“Panatag Shoal belongs to the Philippines and we have all the right to go there. Why should China prevent us from fishing there?” Arciete said.

“Our families are expecting us to bring home some catch after being gone for weeks. We’re doing this for our families,” he added.

The fishermen have complained that Chinese Coast Guards tried to blind them with laser lights as they drove them away from the shoal early this month.

Earlier, Junmar Pumicpic, 25, captain of the FB Bubhoy, said they were fishing near the shoal at 9 a.m. on March 5 when Chinese Coast Guards in rubber boats arrived and ordered them to leave.
Pumicpic said the Chinese rammed their boat, damaging its hull.

“One of their rubber boats carried three men in uniform. [They] approached us and told us in English to leave,” Pumicpic said.

MILF: ‘Instituting the right formula would put closure to Moro problem’: BTC Chair

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Mar 28): ‘Instituting the right formula would put closure to Moro problem’: BTC Chair

“Knowing the past on instituting the right formula in order to write a law would put closure to the centuries-old so called Moro Problem in Mindanao,” Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Chairman Mohagher Iqbal said during the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report Public Launch held in Cotabato City last Tuesday (Mar 15).

“The report of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission or simply TJRC made public today is an occasion to start accepting sincerely the responsibility, accountability and moral obligation for rectification,” he said.

“Transitional Justice is truth seeking and the healing of the wounds of the past,” the BTC Chair stressed.

“Now the retelling of the Bangsamoro narrative could be painful. It’s true, but it is necessary,” he said and added, “Collective amnesia as well as denial could only lead to more injustices.”

The report conveys the result of the study made by the TJRC through listening process sessions in more than 210 Moro, Indigenous and Settler communities in Mindanao and Sulu.

The TJRC, an independent body, is mandated to undertake a study and to make recommendations, based on consultations and expert’s studies, with the view to promote healing and reconciliation of the different communities that have been affected by the conflict.  

Chairman Iqbal said, “The legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro, the historical injustices committed against them and all the violations made against the persons, properties, dignities and their ancestral homeland can now be completely retold on the whole Philippine nation and the world.”

“Just like any pain it can only disappear when it is properly remedied,” Chairman Iqbal stressed.

The TCRJ came with the conclusion that there were “legitimate grievances” of the Bangsamoro people that were political, economic, social and cultural in nature during decades and there were “historical injustices” committed by the colonial governments of Spanish, American and Japanese as well as the Philippine Government.

It further concluded there were human rights violations committed against the Bangsamoro people through extrajudicial killings, rape, arbitrary arrest, and torture.

The TJRC made recommendations to address legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correct historical injustices and to address human rights violations, including marginalization through land dispossession.

Existing government and state institutions at national, regional and local levels can implement the recommendations according to TJRC.

“The publication of this report must now gradually reach the awareness of the public, be they Bangsamoro, indigenous peoples and Filipinos. Beginning today, a national concerted effort towards understanding and acceptance must commence,” Chairman Iqbal further stressed.

He said, “We have made hundreds if not thousands of steps already but our journey towards peace, towards justice, towards reconciliation is indeed a very very long journey which one Moro writer correctly depicted in a book “The Long road to peace: Inside the GPH and MILF peace process.”

The TJRC mainly recommends the creation of National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB), which shall require congressional legislation, that shall oversee the National Dealing with the Past strategy and develop specific initiatives related to historical memory, impunity, promotion of accountability and rule of law, address land dispossession and promote Healing and Reconciliation in the Bangsamoro.

“This report is a prescription to the healing wounds of the past,” Chairman Iqbal said and suggested, “Let us follow the prescription and I am confident that the hurt and pain will slowly recede with the passing of time.”

He thanked TJRC Chair Mo Beeker, Special Envoy of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and her colleagues in the Commission namely GPH delegate Atty. Cecilia Jimenez, MILF delegate Atty, Ishak Matura, GPH alternate delegate Atty. Mohammed Al-Amin Julkipli, MILF alternate delegate Atty. Rusty Kalim, Senior Adviser Jonathan Sisson of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Senior Gender Adviser Dr. Ma. Lourdes Veneracion-Ralonza.

MILF: Muslim Religious leaders denounce assassination attempt on Saudi Cleric and Diplomat

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Mar 28): Muslim Religious leaders denounce assassination attempt on Saudi Cleric and Diplomat

Cotabato City – Thousands gathered at the heart of this city on Thursday, March 2 during a peace rally denouncing the assassination attempt on Saudi Islamic missionary Sheikh A’idh Al-Qarni and Sheikh Turki Assaegh, Religious Attache of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Manila last March 1 at Western Mindanao State University (WMSU), Zamboanga City.

According to police reports, one of the gunmen was killed by police and another two were arrested.
The rallyists described the incident as a terror attack and urged the Aquino Government for a deep investigation on the matter.

“In the name of peace and justice, we are urging President Aquino to serve justice for the two Islamic Scholars,” said Sheikh Abdulrauf Guialani, a member of Darul Ifta.

They also slammed Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco for describing the incident as isolated case.

Asked to comment on the statement of Mayor Climaco, Abu Maha Burhan, member of Committee on Da’wah in the city said the victims are foreign Islamic missionaries with international stature, “how can she call it isolated case?”

“There is still no development on this case, that is why we are urging the national government to fast track the investigation”, Burhan further said.

The two Saudi Clerics came to Zamboanga city to speak on a forum at the said university.

MILF: BIAF 109th Base Command holds Solidarity Camp

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Mar 28): BIAF 109th Base Command holds Solidarity Camp

Colombio, Sultan Kudarat- The 109th Base Command of Eastern Mindanao Front of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces- Moro Islamic Liberation Front (BIAF-MILF) held its closing program for the first phase of their “MUHAYAM” or Solidarity Camp on March 23, 2016 attended by about 400 BIAF members of the base command and field commanders.

The Ideological, Political and Organizational Training (IPO) dubbed “Muhayam” was conducted into 4 batches with each batch attended by 100 participants from platoon leader up to the unit Commander, brigade commander and Morsedeen (Islamic Call and Guidance).

The Islamic Call and Guidance of each unit and in the brigade command is responsible in the Islamization of the rank and file of the Moro Front.

“We gathered here today to conclude the 1st phase of our ‘Muhayam’ and few weeks from now, we will start the 2nd phase.  Let us continue to support MILF-BIAF programs in Capacity Building, and strictly follow the BIAF Code of onduct, said Abdulrahim Molilis, member of the Coordinating Committee for Cessation of Hostilities of the MILF (CCCH). 

Datu Ibarahim “Datu Tots” Salindab urged the participants to strengthen brotherhood and unity among them. Peace and unity among brothers in the struggle are vital to establish a peaceful community. “Unity is an important tool for sustaining peace and development in our community.” Salindab also said.

Fellow Mujahideen, “Let us strengthen our efforts to implement the four point program of the MILF. We must strictly perform our assigned tasks with Islam as our guidance, and support the peace process. Islam is an ideology that governs all aspects of life that includes socio-economic, political and religion”, said Sheik Abdillah Pagimanan.

“We conducted this ‘Muhayam’ with the objective to capacitate our field commanders, perform their respected task and assignments in line with Islamic Perspective, and to support the MILF Central Leadership on our political struggle, to regain our long lost freedom and independence, and achieve lasting Peace in our homeland, Haji Abas Bukol said..

“Let us continue to implement the MILF four-point program, uphold and support the MILF Central Committee on their commitment to pursue the path of peace and ensure that all the gains are preserved.” Hadji Abas stressed.

Prof. Esmael A. Abdula, Kalilintad Peacebuilding Institute (KPI) Executive Director and BLMI Steering Committee member shared with the participants the “PATH TO PEACE”-Stages of the Bangsamoro Struggle for Right to Self-Determination.

He related that the Bangsamoro shifted from armed struggle to political struggle that resulted in the signing of peace agreements and the establishment of institutions that serve as mechanism for peace and development in Mindanao.

“These are the most important gains of the GPH-MILF peace process that the MILF values most”, Abdula said.

“The MILF is resolve in democratic participation once the BBL is passed. The FAB and the CAB are the political documents that provide political solutions to the Bangsamoro struggle for the right to self-determination,” he said.

He explained that the if the BBL was passed it would have been the answer to the Bangsamoro question and the Annex on Normalization is the security aspect in implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the two parties.

“But the non-passage of BBL by Philippine Congress is a great challenge to the Bangsamoro People,” Abdula pointed out. He urged the BIAF field commander to “continue and uphold the peace process and ensure that all its gains are preserved”.

MILF: ‘We will ask the government to deliver the BBL’: BTC Chair

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Mar 28): ‘We will ask the government to deliver the BBL’: BTC Chair

Following the failure of the 16th Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) Chairman Mohagher Iqbal said the Bangsamoro people will ask the government in the next administration to deliver the BBL for it the state’s commitment under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The CAB is the peace agreement signed by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after more than 17 years of peace negotiations. The peace truce is aimed to address the clamor of the Bangsamoro people for self-determination.

“We will ask the government (in the next administration) to deliver the BBL,” Chairman Iqbal told the participants of the General Assembly of Palimbang Chapter of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) held in Malisbong, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat Province on March 26, 2016.

The BTC Chair said it is clearly stipulated in the CAB that the government, particularly the Philippine Congress is obliged to enact the BBL.

The BBL will provide the establishment of autonomous Bangsamoro government that is hoped to bring sustainable peace and development for the Bangsamoro people.

“The next administration shall re-file the BBL or make another Bangsamoro law, but it should still be compliant with the CAB,” he pointed out and explained, “If it’s not CAB-compliant, then government will violate the peace agreement.”

Chairman Iqbal advised the participants to remain sober despite the disappointment brought by the non-passage of the BBL.

He also cited the significant role being played by the international community to the peace process.

“The peace negotiation has already concluded with the signing of the CAB,” the BTC Chair explained. “But the peace process on which the peace negotiation is only part of has not ended yet,” he pointed out.

Chairman Iqbal refuted the alleged unconstitutionality of the BBL as claimed by those who oppose the proposed legislation. He said there were lawyers in the BTC, the body that was mandated to draft the BBL, who saw to it that the provisions of the draft law conform to the constitution.

“Only the Supreme Court has the final say whether it (BBL) is unconstitutional,” he added.

He urged the UBJP officers and members to become active in their organization saying it is not merely a political party but a “social movement.”

The BTC head said only if the BBL was passed the UBJP will join the local elections and field candidates that will carry the platform of good governance.

While waiting for the passage of the BBL, he said the organization should focus on strengthening itself.

“As a social movement group, the UBJP can conduct activities between two elections that will promote peace and solidarity among the Bangsamoro people, Indigenous Peoples and Christian settlers,” he hinted.

The UBJP is a political party created by the MILF in preparation for the Front’s participation in the democratic process of governance once the Bangsamoro government is established following the passage of the BBL.

Abu Sayyaf camp in Basilan falls

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Mar 27): Abu Sayyaf camp in Basilan falls

SUSPECTED bandit was killed while two members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) were wounded in an assault that led to the capture of an Abu Sayyaf camp in the hinterlands of Basilan, a military official said Sunday.

Major Filemon Tan, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) information officer, said the assault was carried out around 10:20 a.m. Sunday on an Abu Sayyaf camp at Sitio Buhe Buug in the village of Macalang, Al-Barka, Basilan.

Tan said the assault was jointly carried out by the Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members and BPAT members from the towns of Sumisip, Tuburan, Akbar and Al-Barka.

Tan said the captured camp belongs to the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

“This (captured camp) is one of the camps na iniikutan niya (Hapilon),” Tan added.

He said Hapilon’s group splintered into smaller groups and fled to different directions.

He said the troops recovered a cadaver of suspected Abu Sayyaf member and eight improvised bombs during the clearing operation that followed after the camp was captured.

He said the two BPAT members were injured when an improvised bomb exploded during the clearing operations.

He said the injured BPAT members were taken to a hospital in Zamboanga City.

The troops are continuously tracking down the group of Hapilon who are on the run, he added.

Hapilon is the only Abu Sayyaf leader who remains alive among the five who were indicted in 2002 in Guam and in the United States for their role in the 2000 Dos Palmas kidnapping of 20 people -- 17 Filipinos and three Americans -- and the eventual beheading of one of the Americans, Guillermo Sobero.

The other four, namely, Khadaffy Janjalani, Hamsiraji Sali, Aldam Tilao alias Abu Sabaya, and Jainal Antel Sali Jr., were killed in separate military offensives.

2 village watchmen hurt as bomb explodes in Basilan town

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 27): 2 village watchmen hurt as bomb explodes in Basilan town

Two members of the Barangay Peace Action Team (BPAT) in Al-Barka, Basilan, were seriously injured during an explosion past 3 p.m. Sunday, a military official reported.

Major General Demy Tejares, deputy commander of the Task Force Zambasulta (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi), identified the injured village watchmen as Sarip Alista and Allahero Ujajin.

Tejares said the two watchmen were patrolling Sitio Bohe Buug in Barangay Macalang when Alista accidentally stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED).

He said Alista’s left fingers were severed by the explosion. Ujajin was also injured.

Tejares did not say who planted the explosive but the bombing took place following the massive operation launched by the military against the Abu Sayyaf this week, which led to the seizure of a camp operated by the bandit group in Basilan on Sunday.

Militiamen had helped in the operation, which also resulted in the killing of two bandits.

US to show off, fire missiles in military exercise

From the Business Mirror (Mar 28): US to show off, fire missiles in military exercise

American troops, who will take part in this year’s bilateral military exercise with their Filipino counterparts, would start arriving in Northern Luzon on Monday along with their equipment, some of which would be seen and used for the first time in the 30-year  history of the war games.

Capt. Celeste Frank Sayson said the US forces should start disembarking in the operational areas of the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command in preparation for the Balikatan. Sayson, Balikatan public affairs officer, said the war training component will be held for 10 days in selected areas around the country and involves live-fire exercises.

The war games will formally open on April 4 and will run until April 14, although its command and planning component or what the participants called “table top exercise” will begin at Camp Aguinaldo on March 28.

A total of 4,904 US troops will join the actual exercises, along with 3,773 Filipino troops.

For the first time, the US will showcase what it calls the high-mobility artillery rocket system (Himars) on top of the 55 various aircraft and at least five warships that it would use. The Himars will be used in the live-fire exercises at the Crow Valley Gunnery Range in Barangay Santa Juliana in the municipality of Capas, Tarlac, and later on will be transported to Palawan, according to Sayson.

The Himars is the newest member of the multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) family. It is a highly mobile artillery rocket system offering the firepower of MLRS on a wheeled chassis.

Himars engages artillery, air-defense concentrations, trucks, light armor and personnel carriers, as well as support troop and supply concentrations. Himars launches its weapons and moves away from the area at high speed before enemy forces locate the launch site, documents provided by Sayson said.

“Part of the live-fire exercises in Crow Valley is the Himars, which is for air protection,” Sayson earlier said. “It is also an anti-ship warfare, ground warfare asset.

 Later on it will be brought to Palawan although it will not be doing some live-fire exercises in Palawan.”

Aside from the rocket system, the US side will also use 55 various aircraft, including Ospreys.

On the other hand, the Armed Forces will fly its various assets, including its two brand new FA-50 lead in fighter jets and S-211s. It would also sail two battleships. Likewise, for the first time, around 80 Australian military personnel
will join the military exercises.

“Australia will be bringing in one aircraft which could be used for HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster response] and civil military operations,” Sayson said.

This year’s training will also have military observers from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Japan, South Korea and Timor Leste.

Pinatubo closed

IN view of the Balikatan, the Capas Municipal Tourism Office (CMTO) in Tarlac has announced that trekking to the world-renowned crater of Mount Pinatubo will be temporarily suspended until April 15.

Barangay Santa Juliana is where Crow Valley is located and also the takeoff point for novice trekkers to the Pinatubo crater, which formed a scenic emerald-colored lake or caldera 2 kilometers in diameter.

In an earlier CMTO advisory, the Mount Pinatubo trek was temporarily suspended from March 23 to 26 spoiling the vacation of scores of tourists all set to make the trek to the crater.

The CMTO advisory said “trekking to the Pinatubo crater is temporarily suspended effective March 23 due to the imposition of additional fees of P700 per person pursuant to an amendment to Botolan, Zambales, Municipal Ordinance  (MO)
1-2015,” which municipal officials here said is “arbitrarily being collected from tourists and guests.” Marissa Velasquez-Vidal, acting Municipal tourism officer, signed the advisory which she said was a directive from Mayor Antonio Rodriguez.

Department of Tourism (DOT) Central Luzon Regional Director Ronnie Tiotuico had to intervene after the CMTO prevented a German television crew from trekking to Mount Pinatubo on March 23.

Tiotuico said the German TV crew was on its last day of gathering footage for a documentary to be shown in Germany when the advisory took effect, preventing them from going to the crater.

Vidal said the imposition of the additional fees is being contested by the indigenous people (IPs) of Zambales, who are the legal private owners of the Pinatubo crater area by virtue of a Certificate of Ancestral Domain title. According to Vidal, the IPs’ complaints prompted the CMTO to issue the advisory.

However, Vidal said they lifted the suspension on March 26. The Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Botolan, Zambales’s resolution imposed an additional P350 environmental fee and P250 ancestral domain preservation fee on top of the P100 ecotourism fee earlier imposed by MO 1-2015 for a total of P700. The SB resolution said a fine of P2,500 will be imposed on anyone who refuses to pay the additional fees, which is being collected by employees of the Botolan, Zambales, local government unit at the boundary of Capas, Tarlac and Botolan, Zambales.

More war equipment to support troops in southern Philippines

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 27): More war equipment to support troops in southern Philippines

The Philippine Army expects the delivery this year of more equipment, including artillery pieces such as 155-mm howitzers, under the continuing  military modernization program.

This was disclosed by Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año who vowed to ensure that troops on the ground, particularly those in national priority areas like Eastern Mindanao, Sulu and Basilan, will get the necessary equipment to allow them to continue with their combat security operations.

In his speech during the Army’s 119th anniversary celebration, Año said they were expecting the arrival, this year, of additional infantry fighting equipment and fire support vehicles, including 155 mm howitzers, light utility vehicles, 60-mm mortars, 40-mm grenade launchers, rocket launcher light units and 50-watt armored vehicle-configuration radios.
These additional equipment are expected to further enhance the Army’s effectiveness to support the government’s campaign to end insurgency in the country.
In 2015, Año said the Army received its delivery of 56,843 M4 rifles, 124 armored vehicles including six with remote-controlled weapons systems, 60 field ambulances and 30 light utility vehicles which he said “will boost the capacity of ground forces in conventional and unconventional warfare.”

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 (EDA) program.

Likewise, the Army have received more than 2,000 radio and equipment for a more effective command and control system.

Meanwhile, the Army chief said that a total of 743 communist rebels, Muslim separatist guerrillas, and terrorists have been “neutralized” as a result of focused military operations in the previous year.

He said the feat is their contribution to the government’s Internal Peace and Security Program (IPSP).

PAF to buy P70-M spare parts for attack helicopters

From the Philippine Star (Mar 28): PAF to buy P70-M spare parts for attack helicopters

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) will spend close to P70 million to acquire spare parts for its AW109 attack helicopters to ensure that the air assets will remain in good condition.

Bid notices uploaded from the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System website showed that the acquisition of spare parts was divided into two projects or lots.

The first lot costs P31.42 million, while the second has an approved budget of P37.5 million.

PAF spokesman Col. Enrico Canaya over the weekend said the spare parts would be acquired “for future use,” noting that the procurement process takes time.

“This is to make sure that our assets are in top condition,” he said.

Canaya clarified that the eight AW109 helicopters in their inventory remain in good condition.

The bid documents did not state what specific helicopter spare parts will be acquired.

To be qualified, prospective bidders should have completed a similar project within the last five years.

The deadline for the submission of bids for the two projects is on March 31 at the Air Force Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base in Pasay, the PAF said.

The bids will be opened on the same day.

The military bought eight AW109 Power helicopters from Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland for P3.44 billion two years ago.

The helicopters are now being used for internal security operations and surveillance.

AgustaWestland previously said the helicopters would feature a mission package and equipment with a combination of weapon systems.

According to the company, each helicopter is an eight-seat twin-engine helicopter with a spacious cabin that can be fitted with a number of modular equipment packages.        

AgustaWestland is the same aircraft manufacturer that won the contract for the acquisition of five AW 109 Power naval helicopters worth P1.3 billion.

US forces arrive for ‘Balikatan’

From the Daily Tribune (Mar 28): US forces arrive for ‘Balikatan’

Thousands of American troops participating in this year’s bilateral Balikatan training and their equipment will start arriving today as officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) begin formulating scenarios for the actual joint exercises.

Capt. Celeste Frank Sayson, Balikatan 2016 exercises public affairs officer, yesterday said that both the AFP and their American counterparts are now putting finishing touches on the actual bilateral training.

“Based on plan, tomorrow (Monday) will be start of mobilization of the Americans, offloading of their quarter equipment. The US forces will start arriving tomorrow and the proceeding weeks,” said Sayson.

He said the US troops will be arriving in Northern Luzon. Sayson, however, did not identify the exact arrival areas, citing security reason.

On the other hand, Sayson said AFP officers involved in this year’s Balikatan will start command post exercise or table top exercises based on formulated scenarios.

According to Sayson, the table top exercises will be held from March 28 to 31. The actual Balikatan 2016 is scheduled April 4 to 15 in various parts of the country.

“We have prepared scenarios. So every now and then there will be simulated scenarios with our AFP generals,” Sayson said.

Part of the scenarios would be a magnitude 6.5 earthquake hitting Metro Manila.
“We will see how our generals react when a crisis happens. For example, Metro Manila is hit by an earthquake…we can see how our generals would utilize the array of forces undet hem, how would they coordinate,” Sayson ecplained.   

More than 8,000 Filipino and US troops are participating in this year’s Balikatan exercises, which is being held annually under Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty.

A total of 4,900 US troops and 3,773 AFP personnel will be taking part in Balikatan 16 which will officially open on April 4.

Aside from the huge number of participants, this year Balikatan 2016 (BK16) will involve jet fighters — with the Armed Forces of the  Philippines (AFP) sending its two brand-new FA50 lead-in fighters to exercise with the US Air Force A10 “Thunderbolts and British-made Hawker Hunter.

The AFP will also be sending all its S211 trainer aircraft in the joint war games.

On the other hand, the US will be sending 55 different aircraft and at least five warships. For the first time, the US will also be bringing high-mobility artillery rocket system (HIMARS).

Also, 80 Australian servicemen will be coming as support elements. There are also observers from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, Japan, South Korea and Timor Leste.

More troops deployed against Abus in Basilan

From the Daily Tribune (Mar 28): More troops deployed against Abus in Basilan

More troops were deployed in Basilan to conduct relentless combat operations against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said that two additional companies of troops were sent to Basilan to sustain the operation against the Abu Sayyaf.

Tan, however, refused to reveal the exact number of augmentation troops.

“Our relentless operations are continuing. We inserted additional troops to sustain the pursuit operation,” said Tan.

“Hopefully, we will have positive development in the coming days,” he added.

Tan justified the deployment of additional troops in Basilan, saying the military does not want to move out forces from the areas that have been cleared earlier with Abu Sayyaf terrorists.

According to Tan, the augmentation forces will come primarily from military units based in Zamboanga.

He assured that the sending of additional troops to Basilan will not result to weaken military presence in other areas under Wesmincom.

On Holy Friday, elements of the Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion (SFB) clashed with more or less 40 Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Albarka, Basilan, resulting in at least two ASG killed while six others were wounded.

“There is no letup in our operations against these lawless elements,” Tan said.

Tan said that the encountered ASG band was under Isnilon Hapilon –the Abu Sayyaf commander who declared allegiance with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Hapilon is wanted by both the Philippine and the United States governments – the US has $5 million reward for his neutralization.

Air Force to stockpile P69M chopper parts

From Manila Business Insght (Mar 28): Air Force to stockpile P69M chopper parts

THE Philippine Air Force is buying P68.92 million worth of spare parts for its eight multi-purpose helicopters which were acquired from Augusta Westland of Italy as part of the military’s modernization program.

Air Force spokesman Col. Enrico Canaya said the acquisition of the spares does not mean that the AW-109 choppers, which were delivered last year, are facing problems.

He said the aircraft “are in good condition.”

“We do the procurement as programmed. This is to make sure that our assets are in top condition, in good shape,” said Canaya. “These (spares) are for future use. It takes a long time to process procurement so we do advance programming.”

The acquisition of spare parts is divided into two lots – one worth P37.50 million and the other P31.42 million. A pre-bid conference was held in Villamor Air Base in Pasay City last March 14 and the opening of bids will be on Thursday.

The helicopters were acquired from Agusta Westland for P3.44 billion under the military’s modernization program. Two of the aircraft were delivered in August last year while the six others were delivered in December, also last year.

The Air Force is using the AW-109s as “attack helicopter aircraft,” complementing the MG-520 choppers in the inventory of the 15th Strike Wing.

Pre-Balikatan exercises start in Camp Aguinaldo

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 28): Pre-Balikatan exercises start in Camp Aguinaldo

FILIPINO and American military forces are due to start today command post or tabletop exercises, part of the annual Balikatan training exercise which formally opens on April 4.

Today will also mark the start of the arrival in undisclosed areas in Northern Luzon of US forces and equipment participating in the Balikatan, said Capt. Celeste Frank Sayson, Balikatan public affairs officer.

For the tabletop exercise, Sayson said Filipino generals and other officials will be gathering at the AFP general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo today to simulate responses to calamities, including a 6.5 magnitude earthquake in Metro Manila.

“We will know how our generals will react when a crisis happens, how the AFP will deploy its array of forces as a reaction to the scenario,” Sayson said.

In Hawaii, American forces will also be holding their own command post exercise today at the US Pacific Command headquarters.

“The US forces will also be doing their own tabletop exercise on how to help the Philippines… They will be aware of the Philippine preparations so they’ll know when to enter, how to provide support,” he said.
The drill will run until March 31.

The Americans will be using around 4,900 US forces, 55 aircraft, and five ships in this year’s Balikatan exercise. On the other hand, the Philippine military will use some 3,700 troops and several air and naval assets.

The field training exercises will be held in the traditional sites including Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Palawan, Subic Bay in Zambales, Crow Valley in Tarlac, and Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.

Two years after the signing of the CAB, what is there to celebrate?

From MindaNews (Mar 27): Two years after the signing of the CAB, what is there to celebrate?

Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) says he does not know what to celebrate two years after the March 27, 2014 signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“I don’t know what to celebrate. I would have thought of celebrating the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Am afraid celebrating would give false impression that everything is alright,” he told MindaNews late Saturday.

Alim says he hopes to “join the celebration of the CAB within the next two years when we are sure things are alright.”

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal acknowledges that there is “nothing” to celebrate on the second anniversary but there would be a “commemoration” that the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) initiated, which would be held at the Notre Dame University gym in Cotabato City on March 28.

The OPAPP activity’s theme is “Stand up for Peace! Long live the CAB!”

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim had repeatedly said that in the even the BBL is not passed, the CAB is still there.

“What is important is nandyan yung agreement (CAB), we protect that agreement because if it cannot be implemented within our lifetime, then the struggle will continue and the next generation will always demand for the implementation of this agreement,” he said.

The OPAPP press release said there would be a photo exhibit, a film showing and presentation of plaques of appreciation. A C-130 cargo aircraft will ferry OPAPP staff, guests and journalists from Manila.

Robert Maulana Alonto, a member of the MILF peace panel and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), notes that two years after the signing of the CAB, the agreement “remains on paper. “

“There’s uncertainty as to whether the next regime will implement it or not. In any case, until its full implementation by the GPH, the Bangsamoro struggle for the right to self-determination continues,” Alonto said.

“We’re not losing hope because our hope lies not on whether any Philippine regime will implement it or not but in the collective indomitable determination of the Bangsamoro Nation to pursue this struggle to the end come hell or high water!” he told MindaNews.

UP Political Science Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, GPH peace panel chair, reckons the end of the negotiation phase and the beginning of the implementation phase to January 25, 2014 when both parties signed the 10-page Annex on Normalization and the three-page “On the Bangsamoro Waters and Zones of Joint Cooperation” addendum to the annexes on Wealth- and Power-sharing.

The Annex on Normalization is the last of four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that forms part of the CAB.

At the joint press conference in Kuala Lumpur then, Ferrer said the signing “marks the end of a process which is the formal negotiations — the effective end, of course with some more finishing touches here and there that will be necessary — but it also marks the beginning of a bigger challenge ahead, which is implementation.”

The 15-member joint BTC which drafted the BBL submitted it to Congress on September 10, 2014 after months of meetings with the GPH peace panel and vetting by the Office of the President and agencies concerned.

The draft BBL, however, was replaced by the Senate and House of Representatives with their own versions of what they renamed as the “Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” (BLBAR).

Both versions were criticized for offering a Bangsamoro that is “less than the ARMM that it seeks to replace.”

In the end, Congress adjourned on February 3, 2016 without passing the basic law.

Lack of time, lack of interest, biases and prejudices that resurfaced after the January 25, 2015 Mamasapano Tragedy, as well as chronic absenteeism in the House of Representatives that repeatedly failed to muster a quorum, and the absence of a certification of urgency from the President were among the reasons cited for the non-passage of an acceptable basic law.

Lack of time was also the reason cited why the proposed National Transition Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB), an independent body recommended by the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was not set up before March 8, 2016, the last day for the President to sign appointments before the Constitutional ban.

The TJRC, set up by the government and MILF peace panels in 2014, was mandated to undertake a study and to make recommendations ”with a view to promote healing and reconciliation among the communities affected by the conflict.”

The TJRC was tasked to propose appropriate mechanisms to “address legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro People; correct historical injustices; address human rights violations; and address marginalization through land dispossession.

It submitted its report to the peace panels separately on December 9 in Cotabato City and Manila and jointly on February 10 in Kuala Lumpur. Its findings were made public only on March 15 and 16 in launchings held in Cotabato City and Manila.

Among its recommendations was for the President to create a National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB), an independent body that shall oversee and support the operations of four Sub-Commissions, ensure the implementation of the ‘dealing with the past’ framework, and promote healing and reconciliation

The four Sub-Commissions are: on Historical Memory; against Impunity, for the Promotion of Accountability, and Rule of Law; on Land Dispossession; and on Healing and Reconciliation.

Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, told MindaNews in a phone conversation on March 16 that while they were preparing the proposed Executive Order (EO) creating the proposed NTJRCB, they were told an independent body cannot be set up by an EO but would require the passage of a law.

In lieu of the supposed EO, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa issued a Memorandum of Instructions directing Deles to endorse the TJRC Report to the relevant agencies, “for the agencies’ review and assessment;” convene and coordinate with the agencies to work towards the adoption and implementation of the recommendations; identify and mobilize resources to support the programs that may be implemented; and encourage and initiate activities toward the mainstreaming and popularization of the framework for transitional justice and reconciliation.”

Ochoa also directed Deles to present a report on her compliance with the instructions.
In her message at the public launchings of the report, TJRC chair Mo Bleeker, Special Envoy of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, said the creation of an independent body is “absolutely necessary in order to address the systemic forms of violence, impunity, and neglect that currently prevail. Its independence is crucial; so that, it can become a real contribution to the promotion of a new societal contract, the creation of conditions for reconciliation, and to prevent the recurrence of the conflict.”

Philippine troops kill Malaysian militant in Basilan province

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 27): Philippine troops kill Malaysian militant in Basilan province

Government troops killed a Malaysian militant in a clash Sunday with Abu Sayyaf rebels in the troubled province of Basilan in the Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, a military report said.

It said hundreds of army troops and pro-government militias launched an assault against the Abu Sayyaf in the village of Macalang in Al-Barka town, a known stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014.

A small team of MILF members led by Pulon Kulalul also joined the army in fighting the Abu Sayyaf. Two militias – Allahero Ujajin and Sarip Alista  – were injured in the clash.

Troops also recovered the body of the slain militant, but his name was not immediately made available by the military except that he was a Malaysian national fighting alongside the Abu Sayyaf. At least 6 improvised explosives were also recovered from the encampment of the Abu Sayyaf in Sitio Bohe Buug.

On March 25, government troops also killed an Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Eric Ajibun and one of his followers in fierce clashes that left 5 soldiers and two militias wounded in Al-Barka town.

Troops launched an operation dubbed “Oplan Urgent Fury 2” against the Abu Sayyaf following deadly clashes between the MILF and the jihadist group on March 23 that killed Haipa Isnilon, son of a key Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

MILF forces ambushed Haipa’s group which was reported to be trying to set up a camp in the area which the villagers and the former rebel group strongly opposed.
In December last year, military forces also killed a Malaysian national during clashes with the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.

P6-M PAMANA projects to be implemented in Baliguian town

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 28): P6-M PAMANA projects to be implemented in Baliguian town

Two separate projects are slated to be implemented in Baliguian, Zamboanga del Norte under the Department of Interior and Local Government-Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (DILG-PAMANA) Fund 2015.

This was learned during the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC)-9 meeting held at the Top Plaza Hotel here recently.

These two projects are the construction of a P3 million-hanging bridge at Sitio Luktuson, Barangay Nonoyan, and the construction of Level II Water System at Sitio Tumbaga in the same barangay with another P3 million allocation.

PAMANA projects are intended to reduce poverty through community infrastructure and focused delivery of social services in conflict-affected areas.

Both projects got the approval of the council and that the funds may now be downloaded from DILG-9 to the local government unit of Baliguian for the purpose.

In the same meeting, the police and military officials have also vowed to protect the people against all forms of lawlessness in the region.

In his report, Capt. Jason Mararac of the 101st Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army based in Del Pilar, Piñan, Zamboanga del Norte said that some politicians might “utilize the private armed groups during the 2016 elections, and criminalities may rise as election draws near.”

But Col. Jesus Mananquil, 101st Brigade commanding officer, was quick to say that both the police and military are ready for any eventuality.

Zamboaga del Norte Governor Roberto Y. Uy presided over the RPOC-9 meeting with member-agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine National Police, Philippine Army, Philippine Information Agency, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, provincial governments of Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay, private sector representatives and others in attendance.

Spacecraft carrying first PH-built satellite now at Space Station

From Update.Ph (Mar 27): Spacecraft carrying first PH-built satellite now at Space Station


Orbital ATK’s unmanned resupply spacecraft Cygnus (Cygnus CRS OA-6) carrying the first Filipino-built microsatellite PHL-Microsat 1 Diwata has caught up with the International Space Station Saturday evening. Cygnus-6 was captured using the International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2 by Expedition 47 Commander Tim Kopra at exactly 6:51 am EDT (6:51 pm in Philippines), NASA said.

The spacecraft was then installed to ISS’ Unity module. “The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship was bolted into place on the International Space Station’s Earth-facing port of the Unity module at 10:52 am EDT (10:52 pm in PH),” NASA added.

Aside from Diwata, NASA said “Cygnus is delivering more than 7,700 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory to support dozens of approximately 250 science and research investigations that will occur during Expeditions 47 and 48.”

Diwata will stay at the ISS for few weeks before finally deploying to space. It will be deployed to space through Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Small Satellite Orbital Deployer.

Filipino Master of Science students and scientists worked with Japanese institutions Hokkaido University (HU) and Tohoku University (TU) for the realization of first Filipino-built micro-satellite. The program used around PhP840 million with the Philippine government shouldering PhP324.8 million. Japanese universities shouldered the PhP515.92 million.

Diwata’s receiving station, Philippine Earth Data Resource and Observation (PEDRO), will be based in Subic. Diwata can examine the destruction caused on land by typhoons and rainstorms with an accuracy of up to five meters. It can also be useful in agriculture, forest cover monitoring and national security.

Philippine Navy team now in US for research vessel Melville

From Update.Ph (Mar 27): Philippine Navy team now in US for research vessel Melville

rv melville pn

A Philippine Navy team is now in United States for the transfer of research vessel RV Melville. This was confirmed in a post on RV Melville’s Twitter account managed by the vessel’s American crew.

“Today I have the pleasure of meeting my new crew…Philippine Navy!” said in the post dated March 22 with photo of Filipino crew.

Melville is the oldest active vessel in the academic research fleet, collectively known as the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS).

US President Barack Obama announced that the US is donating the USCGC Boutwell to Philippines along with the research vessel, RV Melville during his visit to the Philippines last November 17. Obama traveled to Manila in November 2015 for the APEC Leaders’ Summit.

2nd CAB signing anniversary celebration to be held in Cotabato City on Monday

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): 2nd CAB signing anniversary celebration to be held in Cotabato City on Monday

"Stand up for peace. Long live the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB)!"

This is the theme of the 2nd anniversary celebration of the signing of the 2014 negotiated political settlement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that served as basis for the drafting of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and outlined socioeconomic interventions and transitional justice and reconciliation mechanisms to ensure a just and lasting peace not only in Mindanao but across the country.

The anniversary will be commemorated with an event that will be held at the Notre Dame University Gymnasium in the city on March 28, 2016. The actual signing of the CAB happened on March 27, 2014 but due to the observance of Easter Sunday, both the GPH and the MILF agreed to hold it on the following day.

“Even though the proposed BBL was not passed by the 16th Congress, the gains achieved in the Bangsamoro peace process throughout the decades have been tremendous. There is solid basis for the people of the Bangsamoro to remain hopeful and continue looking forward toward a better, peaceful future," said GPH chief negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.

"Most importantly, the CAB binds the government and the MILF to a road map that serves as the best deterrent to violent extremism and lays down the needed social and political reform that would see the full transformation of the Bangsamoro region into a center of peace and development,” she added.

The celebration of the CAB signing anniversary will be the last under the current administration. President Benigno S. Aquino III is scheduled to step down on June 30 to give way to the winner of the 2016 presidential election.

Ferrer and the rest of the GPH negotiating panels are co-terminous with the President.

BBL non-passage does not diminish successes

Before the signing of the CAB, the GPH and the MILF launched the Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program –- a concrete socioeconomic initiative aimed to uplift the health, education, and livelihood conditions of residents in MILF communities. Moreover, the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission held earlier this month a public launching of its report and recommendations on healing the wounds of war and addressing the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro.

Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles announced that concrete actions are being undertaken with regard the report. She also mentioned that she would initiate an inter-agency committee to study the TJRC’s recommendations and how to put them into motion.

Also, since 2012, there has been zero skirmishes recorded between GPH and MILF forces except the Mamasapano incident which happened on Jan. 25, 2015. Despite the firefight that lasted hours and resulted in 67 casualties, ceasefire was quickly re-established.

Event Proper

The CAB anniversary celebration will feature several activities such as a photo exhibit on the Bangsamoro peace process and a public viewing of select films and documentaries on the struggles and hopes of the Bangsamoro which will be followed by an open forum. Gates will be opened at 10 a.m. while the actual film viewing will begin 30 minutes after.

The formal program will commence at 1 p.m. Bulk of the program will be dedicated to awarding plaques of recognition and appreciation to local and international actors who have been part of the Bangsamoro peace process throughout the years. Aside from the established peace and ceasefire mechanisms, past negotiating panel chairs have also been invited as honorees.

Aside from Ferrer and MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, other expected guests include: OPAPP Secretary Deles; representative/s of the MILF Central Committee; members and representatives of the ceasefire mechanisms; members and representatives of mechanisms under the program for Normalization; members and representatives of the Third-Parties in the GPH-MILF peace process; and members and representatives of the Diplomatic Corps.

There will be food booths within the venue that will provide local delicacies and refreshments beginning 11:30 a.m. Several groups have also been invited to render cultural performances.

Invitations have also been extended to: members of the National Peace Council as well as people from the academe, religious communities, security sector, civil society, indigenous people organizations, and Royal Houses.

PHL units involved in 'Balikatan' to conduct 'CPX' exercises Monday

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): PHL units involved in 'Balikatan' to conduct 'CPX' exercises Monday

Filipino military units, deployed for this year's 'Balikatan' exercises, will start their "command post exercises" (CPX) Monday.

This was disclosed by "Balikatan" spokesperson Capt. Celeste Frank Sayson on Sunday.

He added that the activity is one of the pre-'Balikatan' maneuvers which will last for one week.

"CPX" involves placing all commanding officers of Philippine units earnmarked for the annual wargames will be place in one room and made to response to stimulated scenarios which include a sudden movement of the West Valley Fault which triggered a 6.5-magnitude earthquake that severely impacted Metro Manila.

Sayson said this stimulated exercises will teach Filipino commanders on how to properly react during a crisis, exercise their command-and-control mechanisms, and how to coordinate their response with Malacanang and the National Security Council and allied nations like the US.

Units involved in the earthquake scenario includes those of the Tarlac-based Northern Luzon Command and Lucena-headquartered Southern Luzon Command.

"Balikatan 2016" is scheduled to start this April 4 and will end on April 15.

An estimated 3,773 Filipino soldiers and 4,904 US troops will participate in the two-week military maneuvers.