Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Japan PM Abe, ASEAN leaders exchange views on South China Sea

From InterAksyon (Sep 8): Japan PM Abe, ASEAN leaders exchange views on South China Sea

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives at the ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 7, 2016.REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states found limited common ground on Japanese concerns about China's expansionary activities in the South China Sea at their summit Wednesday in Vientiane.

The 10 members of ASEAN, which met Tuesday and Wednesday, include countries involved in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea as well as those inclined to back Beijing in light of its massive assistance to the bloc's less-developed economies.

During the talks running just more than an hour, Abe reiterated Japan's position backing a ruling by an international arbitration tribunal in July that rejected China's territorial claims to most of the South China Sea.

According to a Japanese official, Abe told the leaders that China has made continued attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo in the last several months.

In response to ASEAN members' commitment to maintaining dialogue aimed at peacefully resolving territorial disputes with China, Abe said such dialogue should be carried out according to international law and on the basis of maintaining self-restraint, the official said.

According to the official, several of the ASEAN leaders shared a similar stance on the South China Sea issue to that expressed by Abe, and none objected to it.

But the official refused to clarify whether any of the leaders made an explicit mention of the July ruling.

Some of the leaders mentioned the need for self-restraint in the South China Sea but did not mention China by name, the official said, while one spoke of the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation in the East China Sea, where Japan has its own issues with China over the Tokyo-controlled, Beijing-claimed Senkaku Islands.

Since the ruling, China has argued that the South China Sea issue is none of Japan's business. In response, Abe stressed to the ASEAN leaders that the waterway is an especially vital sea lane for Japan, the official said.

According to ASEAN sources, the ASEAN post-summit chairman's statement compiled by Laos will likely stop short of specifically referring to the case, following the precedent its foreign ministers set in a joint communique at their meeting in July.

The leaders also affirmed the need to work cooperatively to combat the threat of terrorism in Asia, including by homegrown terrorists, and fortify cybersecurity.

Abe announced that Japan will provide 45 billion yen ($444 million) through various avenues over the next three years to fund measures to improve counter-terrorism capabilities across Asia, combat violent extremist groups and promote socioeconomic development to support stable societies.

Japan will also support the training of 2,000 counter-terrorism experts over the next three years to those ends.

Touching on the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community late last year, Abe expressed Japan's resolve to continue to support enhanced economic integration in ASEAN through "high-quality" infrastructure investment, according to Japanese officials.

Tokyo has been emphasizing the quality of its infrastructure development in an apparent effort to distinguish its investment in emerging economies from that of China.

The leaders agreed on the establishment of a Japan-ASEAN women's empowerment fund to support microfinance, to be managed by selected Japanese private-sector investors, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

According to the Japanese government, the first disbursement for the fund is scheduled for October. The fund will then distribute investment and loans to microfinance entities in each eligible country, which will in turn reach small businesses run mainly by women.

WATCH | PNP bares details of bomb used in Davao attack; eyes narco-politicians

From InterAksyon (Sep 8): WATCH | PNP bares details of bomb used in Davao attack; eyes narco-politicians

Davao City personnel clean up the blast site on Roxas night market hours after a "twin-bomb" - using two types of mortars detonated by a cell phone - exploded, killing 14 people and wounding over 60 otehrs. INTERAKSYON.COM FILE

The special investigation task group of the Philippine National Police has released a sketch of bomb used in Friday night's explosion at the Roxas night market in Davao City that killed 14 people and injured over 60 others.

The PNP sketch shows two types of mortar used in the attack: a 60-millimeter and an 81-millimeter type.

Both were attached to a cell phone that served as the switch.

A 9-volt battery served as the power source.

This type of explosive device can instantly kill, police said, all persons within its 4-square-meter radius.

Besides the terrorism angle and the possible role of drug lords affected by the tough war on illegal drugs, authorities are also looking into the possibility that terrorist groups have now branched out into the illiicit drug trade.

According to Director Adzar Albani, of the Region 11 office of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), among those possibly behind the Davao blast are "yung mga terrorist groups na gumagamit na rin ng droga and then naging source narin ng funding nila yung drugs [those terrorist groups who also use drugs and then used the drug trade as their source of funds]."

It's also possible, authorities said, that the narco-politicians of Lanao and Maguindanao whom President Duterte earlier mentioned may behind the attack.

Both provinces are in Central Mindanao region, where bombs are being fabricated for sale, officials pointed out.

Albani said, "there are about 12 mayors in Lanao and Maguindanao alone. So [there are big] players there. We are zeroing in on people who have links to drugs and have the capability to finance any terroristic activity."

On Tuesday,police raided the site of a "factory" for improvised explosive devices in Mlang, North Cotabato.

They seized one grenade and materials for bomb-making. They arrested the caretaker, but the house owner escaped.


[Video report]

PNP meets security heads of malls, schools, hotels amid rash of 'bomb threats'

From InterAksyon (Sep 8): PNP meets security heads of malls, schools, hotels amid rash of 'bomb threats'

The Philippine National Police met Wednesday the security managers of malls, schools and hotels in connection with the rash of bomb threats days after a deadly night-market explosion killed 14 people in Davao City.

Even though all the bomb threats received since Friday night's Davao blast turned out to be negative, authorities are not taking any chances.

Typical of the rash of threats is a Facebook chat giving details of an alleged bomb threat targeting one of the country's biggest mall chains.

According to the chat, supposedly coming from a source in the mall management, they received a call from the Abu Sayyaf demanding $15 million. Supposedly, the ASG warned that if they don't get the money within one week, they will blow up the mall.

Curiously, the supposed source within mall management gave a "well-meaning" advice to people not to visit the mall.

The mall in question denied to police that they got such a "threat" from the Abu Sayyaf, but are verifying the source of the FB rumor.

Meanwhile, the mall security managers admitted that their current practice of just poking into bags with a stick is not enough to flush out hazardous items.

The PNP thus advised them to install metal detectors and K9 units in their most crowded spots.
At Wednesday's meeting of the PNP with the security managers of malls, hotels and schools, PNP chief Gen. Ronald dela Rosa appealed to those receiving threats or messages to promptly forward these to authorities.

"Please don't panic. For all you know, ito'y kagagawan lang ng mga estudyante na ayaw lang pumasok sa paaralan [this may just be the handiwork of students who don't want to attend classes]. What I can assure you is that PNP is doing its job," said dela Rosa.

Meanwhile, the security managers of schools are also investigating the rash of bomb threats that have hit several Metro Manila schools this week.

In a statement, the Department of Education earlier said it requested the PNP to increase police visibility around schools, even though the bomb threats so far have turned out negative. DepEd also directed all school officials to be alert at all times.

The Eastern Police District and Pasig police also met with barangay officials, building administrators and security officers in the Ortigas business district, and reminded them of standard operating procedures: among others, not to simply pick up abandoned stuff in public places, as such may explode.

The security officers were told to quickly call 911 or the nearest police station for help.

DND releases photos of Chinese boats at Scarborough before ASEAN meet with China premier

From InterAksyon (Sep 7): DND releases photos of Chinese boats at Scarborough before ASEAN meet with China premier

Chinese coast guard motorboats block a Filipino fishing vessel from approaching Scarborough Shoal. (AFP file)

The Department of National Defense released pictures on Wednesday showing what it said were Chinese boats near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, just hours before leaders of Southeast Asian nations were due to meet China's premier in Laos.

There was no explanation for the timing of the release, but it came two days after Manila expressed "grave concern" about the increasing number of Chinese vessels around Scarborough and demanded an explanation from Beijing's ambassador.

A Philippine official said the release of the photographs and a map was ordered by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Vientiane.

China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei -- the last four ASEAN members -- claim parts or all of the resource-rich South China Sea, making it a hotspot of regional tension.

The 10 images and map were sent by email to journalists, many of whom are in Vientiane for the ASEAN summit. The ASEAN leaders were due to meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday, although it was unclear if the row over the South China Sea would be openly addressed.

The move by the Philippines comes after a spat with the United States, its main ally. President Rodrigo Duterte criticized US President Barack Obama, prompting the cancellation of a meeting between the two leaders in Laos.

China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually.

The United States says it has no position on the territorial dispute, but has conducted freedom of navigation patrols close to Chinese-held islands, to Beijing's anger, while China has been bolstering its military presence there.

Few rocks

Although Scarborough Shoal is merely a few rocks poking above the sea, it is important to the Philippines because of its tranquil waters and rich stocks of fish. Manila says China's blockade of the shoal is a violation of international law.

The dispute has become more significant since the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled on July 12 that no one country had sovereign rights over activity in the Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing ground for Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese.

China has refused to recognize the ruling by the court in The Hague.

Duterte wants China to abide by the ruling but he had pledged not to raise the issue during the meeting in Laos. He wants to smooth the way for bilateral negotiations and last month sent former President Fidel Ramos as his special envoy to meet Chinese representatives in Hong Kong.

A draft ASEAN communique seen by Reuters on Monday listed eight points related to the South China Sea, but made no mention of the ruling.

However, Lorenzana said ahead of the summit that a Philippine air force plane had flown over the shoal and spotted more boats than usual in a flotilla China has maintained since seizing the shoal after a tense standoff in 2012.

Lorenzana said the presence of six Chinese vessels in addition to coastguard ships in the area was "a cause of grave concern."

A security official traveling with Duterte said it was a challenge for the government to explain why Filipino fishermen cannot go back and fish in the area when The Hague had ruled that Scarborough was a fishing ground for all.

"We won in the arbitral court, but we could not enforce it, how can we explain that to our own fishermen?" said the official, who declined to be named.

"So, we wanted to talk to China and resolve the issue, but the situation like this is making it more difficult. The president is asking what is China's intentions in the area?"


From the Mindanao Times (Sep 7): Corroborative

Task Force gets sketches of persons of interest in night market blast

THE SPECIAL Investigation Task Group Night Market has now the sketches of the four persons of interest in the Roxas explosion that killed 14 people and injured 70 others.
Police regional director, Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan, the task group supervisor, said witnesses gave “corroborative descriptions” of the persons of interest — two males and two females — to the artists who are making the composite illustrations.
One of those four persons of interests was pointed to have carried the bag that contained the bomb, Gaerlan told reporters yesterday at the Davao City Police Office’s headquarters at Camp Quintin Merecido along San Pedro Street.
He admitted that they could not yet “conclusively” say that the three others have direct participation in the bombing because the evidence against them was “circumstantial.”
The police regional director refused to name the witnesses for security reason. He said some of the witnesses are among the injured victims.
“Two of the witnesses gave corroborative descriptions,” Gaerlan said.
He said that they are already enhancing the sketches — from manual to digital stage.
Gaerlan said they will release the sketches once those are completed.
The police regional head said the persons of interest could only be considered as suspects in the bombing after the evaluation of the task group.
Gaerlan also revealed that the improvised explosive device used was made up of two mortar ammunitions – a 60 mm and an 81 mm.
“This means that it really intends to hurt,” Gaerlan said. “It aims for maximum casualty.”
He said the suspects are extreme. “They really meant to harm.”
Gaerlan said the task force was able to reconstruct part of the mortar through the fragments recovered from the bodies of some victims and in the crime scene.
Based on the reconstruction, Gaerlan said they learned that the two mortar ammunitions were fused into one.
He said the device used was a cellphone-detonated bomb based on the theory of post-blast investigators.
“We were able to recover a SIM pack holder and a micro-SD memory card,” he said, adding that they did not find anymore the SIM pack.
Col. Henry Robinson, the axed commander of Task Force Davao, had said that the mortar shell they recovered was already rusty, meaning it’s already old.
Robinson said such use of mortal shell is a signature of the bombers in Maguindanao and Lanao.
There’s a group there that is ISIS-inspired,” he said. “We call them the Al Khobar Maute group and Al-Khalipa Pilipinas. For now, we are evaluating if there’s an alliance.”

Another battalion sent off to Sulu

From the Mindanao Times (Sep 7): Another battalion sent off to Sulu

THE 10TH Infantry Division yesterday already ordered some personnel movement after sending off more soldiers under the 68th Infantry Battalion to help crush the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu.
Maj. Gen. Rafael Valencia, the division commander, told reporters in an interview at Tactical Operations Group (TOG-XI) that since there are already three battalions deployed to the Western Mindanao Command, their manpower is stretched thin.
The 68th IB operates in Talaingod, Davao del Norte and parts of San Fernando, Bukidnon .
The 69th Infantry Battalion and 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion were already deployed earlier.
“I have not heard whether the two battalions earlier already engaged (the ASG), but they are now in Sulu,” he said.
The 10th Infantry Division has 12 battalions under its command.
Meanwhile, he said that security in the region won’t be hampered because of diminished personnel.
“We have unilateral ceasefire with the CPP-NPA-NDF so the number o military operations has already reduced, so we have enough forces to cover all areas of responsibility of the division,” he said.
“Our operations for now are on counter-terrorism like checkpoints, patrols in urban centers and intelligence operation,” he added.

2 Sayyafs killed in latest fighting in Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Sep 7): 2 Sayyafs killed in latest fighting in Philippines

The Philippine military on Wednesday said troops killed 2 Abu Sayyaf militants in gunfight in Patikul town in Sulu, one of 5 provinces under the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.

It said the soldiers from the 35th and 21st infantry battalions clashed Tuesday with about 30 militants under Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders Jamiri Jawhari and Basaron Arok in Danag village.

A security spokesman, quoting reports from civilians in the village, claimed the bodies of slain militants were taken by their companions and that many others had been wounded in the clash.

But there were no civilians in the area because villagers had fled their homes for fear they would be caught up in the crossfire or mistaken for militants. The military said the operations against the Abu Sayyaf were continuing and that over 30 gunmen had been killed since the offensive against the notorious group began last month.

Many civilians in the town have armed themselves and joined the government-backed militia group called Barangay Police Action Team (BPAT) originally organized during the time of Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro and Sulu Governor Sakur Tan to protect civilian communities from Abu Sayyaf atrocities.

The incumbent Governor Toto Tan said he will help BPAT members secure permits for their weapons and told them to strictly follow the law and use their firearms to secure and protect their villages against Abu Sayyaf attacks.

Many towns also have its own BPAT which is being supervised by their mayors and police authorities.

Civilians have been providing authorities with information on the Abu Sayyaf and are supporting the government action against the militant group, blamed by the police and military for the spate of brutal killings of innocent people and ransom kidnappings in the restive region.

Soldier wounded in new bombing in Mindanao

From the Mindanao Examiner (Sep 7): Soldier wounded in new bombing in Mindanao

Philippine authorities raid a hideout of suspected bomb-makers in Mlang town in North Cotabato province and arrested Jokrie Andong Buisan in this photo provided by the provincial police.

A government soldier was wounded following a roadside explosion in the restive province of Maguindanao in the Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, officials said on Wednesday.

Officials said 5 more improvised explosives were recovered by soldiers and policemen in the towns of Datu Odin Sinsuat and Sultan Kudarat.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the foiled attacks, but this coincided with police information that the recent bombing in Davao City was probably the handiwork of the Malaysian militant Jemaah Islamiya and the local Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and followers of slain Malaysian bomber Zulkifli Abdhir alias Marwan.

Several jihadist groups are actively operating in Maguindanao and its neighboring provinces which authorities said were behind numerous bombings in the region.

Authorities were also hunting down two brothers – Guiamadel and Anwar Sandigan – who are known bomb-makers in North Cotabato province, who escaped a recent raid by soldiers and policemen in the town called M’lang. 

One of the brothers’ henchman, Jokrie Buisan, was arrested and that the raiders seized a fragmentation grenade and materials used in the manufacture of improvised explosives, including cell phones, blasting caps and black powder. 

It was not immediately known whether the trio had anything to do with the bombing in Davao City that killed 15 people and injured over 60 civilians at a crowded night market there.

Army calls for vigilance following Maguindanao bombing attempt

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): Army calls for vigilance following Maguindanao bombing attempt

Military forces in Maguindanao have been placed on heightened alert as soldiers put up more checkpoints following President Duterte's declaration of state of lawlessness.

Colonel Earl Baliao, commander of 601st Infantry Brigade, also urged the public to be vigilant and quickly alert authorities about suspicious luggage, bags and plastic shopping bags left unattended in public places.

Baliao said a concerned citizen named Norodin alerted elements of the 37th Infantry Battalion about what he found at a roadside in Barangay Rebuken, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

"We need people like him, cooperate with our forces to prevent injuries and death in this situation," Baliao said.

When bomb experts checked on the unattended plastic bag, it turned to be composed of three improvised bombs fashioned from 60 mm mortar with two-way radio as triggering mechanism.

To ensure public safety while the deactivation process was on going, soldiers shut down portions of the Cotabato-Davao highway for two hours.

Baliao said the explosives have the "signatures" of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), saying the same explosives were used by the lawless group in the past.

The discovery of three power IEDs in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao came about eight hours after another IED was set off by suspected BIFF in Barangay Lower Salbu, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

The IED went off at 9:30 a.m. while soldiers of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion were conducting foot patrol following the implementation of declaration of state of lawless by President Duterte in the aftermath of Friday's Davao bombing.

Colonel Warlito Limet, commander of 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, blamed the BIFF for the roadside bombing and called on the public to report suspicious items in populated areas or roads frequented by civilians.

Cops arrest suspected bomber in North Cotabato, seize bomb-making materials

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): Cops arrest suspected bomber in North Cotabato, seize bomb-making materials

Police and military forces in North Cotabato arrested Tuesday dawn a man believed to be a member of a bomb mercenary group operating in Central Mindanao region.

Senior Supt. Emmanuel Peralta, North Cotabato police office, said Wednesday the raid by joint police and 7th Infnatry Battalion troopers was conducted at 4 a.m. in Barangay Inas, Mlang, North Cotabato and led to the arrest of Jokrie Andong Buisan.

Peralta said the raiding team was looking for Guiamadel Sandigan and his brother Anwar Sandigan based on an arrest warrant for violation of Republic Act 10591 and RA 9516 or illegal possession of explosives.

Both suspects managed to elude arrest as they were already out of their homes in Barangay Dungguan and Barangay Inas, both in Mlang, when government forces arrived.

However, Peralta said Buisan was found in the house of Anwar Sandigan while holding a live fragmentation grenade.

Peralta said the raid was conducted in the presence of Jose Sagadan Sr, chairperson of Barangay Dungguan.

Seized from the houses of the suspects were one M-67 fragmentation grenade, bomb making materials like blasting caps, detonating cord, Nokia mobile phone, batteries, two motorcycles with questionable registration, a home-made Uzi sub-machinegun.

Peralta said manhunt is still on going against the Sandigan siblings while Buisan was brought to Mlang police lock up cell for tactical interrogation.

Police and military authorities could not say if Buisan or the Sandigan siblings were involved in bombing incidents in Mlang and Kabacan, both in North Cotabato, last year.

PVAO, VMMC to conduct medical outreach program in Pangasinan

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): PVAO, VMMC to conduct medical outreach program in Pangasinan

The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) will conduct a medical outreach program and information campaign on Sept. 15 at the Narcisco Ramos Sports and Civic Center in Lingayen, Pangasinan from 9:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m.

PVAO said the information campaign aims to inform the veterans about the Veterans Hospitalization and Medicare Program (VHMCP).

All veterans and their legal dependents are invited to take advantage of this activity which is offered for free.

The medical outreach program will offer free medical check-up, dental, opthalmology, psychiatry, rehab medicine, ENT (ear, nose and throat), OB-gyne, urology, Echo Cardiogram, General Medicine and Pediatrics.

This medical outreach program seeks to respond to the medical needs of veterans and their dependents living in the provinces and remote areas.

PNP Bicol deploys battalion of policemen to beef security at Peñafrancia festivity

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): PNP Bicol deploys battalion of policemen to beef security at Peñafrancia festivity

The Philippine National Police (PNP) in Bicol has deployed a battalion of policemen to assist in securing around a million Catholic devotees expected to flock to Naga City to honor Bicol’s patroness, the Virgin of Peñafrancia, a ranking police official said Wednesday.

Sr. Insp. Maria Luisa Calubaquib, spokesperson of the Police Regional Office in Bicol (PRO5), said Chief Supt. Melvin Ramon Buenafe, PRO5 director, led the send off ceremony on Wednesday at Camp Gen. Simeon Ola, PRO5 headquarters.

Calubaquib said 500 policemen from various police units would help the existing police force in Camarines Sur maintain security during the week-long religious event from Sept. 9 to 18.

She said the deployed policemen would assist the Naga City Police Office in ensuring a peaceful and orderly celebration of the Peñafrancia Festival, an annual religious event in the Bicol.

“The deployment of a battalion of policemen would prevent lawless elements from taking advantage of the festivity by sowing possible atrocities that would mar the religious event,” Calubaquib said.

She said additional police force would also be fielded to secure vital installations such as power and communication facilities, and hold checkpoints and police patrols in areas near various churches, malls and transport terminals.

The Peñafrancia festival would start with the "Traslacion" on Friday, wherein the image of “Ina,” as the virgin is fondly called, would be transferred from the Basilica to the Naga Cathedral where the Ina would stay for a week.

During the Traslacion procession, thousands of male devotees with red headbands and on barefoot would carry the "Ina" mounted in a pagoda.

During "Ina’s" stay, parishioners would hold daily masses and novenas.

The Bicol religious fest would end and be highlighted by a fluvial procession on Sept. 17, where the Ina image would be carried in a pagoda on its return journey to the Basilica Minore, where a pontifical mass would be held.

Army camp placed on heightened alert

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): Army camp placed on heightened alert

CAMP MELCHOR DELA CRUZ, GAMU, Isabela -- The 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army based in this town has raised its security alert level in its area of operations particularly Region 2 and Cordillera region.

The heightened alert is in support to President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of “State of Lawlessness” after the bombing in Davao City last Saturday.

Brigadier General Paul Atal, Commanding General of 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army based in this town, said the focus of the heightened alert is to intensify information collection and conduct of measure in coordination with the Philippine National Police (PNP) to prevent violent incidents similar to what happened in Davao City.

Atal has called on the public to remain calm, saying the situation in Northern Luzon is far from that of Davao City and other parts of Mindanao.

He assured the public that the soldiers of 5ID are closely working with the PNP to ensure a peaceful and orderly community and to foil any move of lawless elements to sow terror.

USAID builds more disaster-resilient classrooms in Leyte

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): USAID builds more disaster-resilient classrooms in Leyte
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has turned over on Wednesday 24 climate-resilient classrooms in Leyte province as part of the US government’s assistance to communities badly hit by super typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

US Embassy Manila’s USAID Office of Education Deputy Chief Erica Rounsefell led the inauguration ceremonies for new classrooms in four schools - Dagami South Central School in Dagami town, San Joaquin National High School in Palo, Alegria National High School in Julitan, and Salvador Elementary School in Tanauan.

“These new classrooms are typhoon and earthquake proof so you can feel confident that despite what storms might come, the structures will continue to provide opportunity for excellent education for students,” Rounsefell told a crowd of local officials, teachers, parents and learners during a ceremony in Dagami town.

Joining the turnover ceremonies were Leyte Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla, local government officials, Department of Education officials and four principals from the beneficiary schools.

“The priority we give to building classrooms underline the important role of education in reducing poverty. It reaffirms our conviction that education is a basic human right to which everyone should have access.”

The official lauded the dedication of teachers, school administrators, parents and students to learn despite natural disasters such as super typhoon Yolanda.

Petilla asked parents to help maintain the facility and help ensure bright future of their children. “The best way to thank the American people is to make sure that when these children grow up, they will be productive citizens of the country.”

After the ceremony in Dagami South Central School, Rousenfell and other officials headed to the other beneficiary schools to perform the ceremonial ribbon-cutting and unveiling of the project marker for each site.

The 24 classrooms were constructed with climate-resilient construction techniques and will provide safe, and conducive learning environments for almost 1,800 students from the beneficiary schools.

These projects are part of the U.S. government’s nearly USD143 million assistance to help typhoon survivors build back better after the catastrophe. Across affected areas, USAID is constructing 310 classrooms, 30 agri-fishery support facilities, 12 health facilities, and 1,029 community stores.

USAID is also restoring livelihood activities through the provision of equipment and training to 3,215 farmers, 6,920 fisherfolk, and 1,417 micro, small and medium entrepreneurs.

PHL, Vietnam share common stand on South China Sea

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): PHL, Vietnam share common stand on South China Sea

President Rodrigo R. Duterte and Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung share the same stand on the issue of the South China Sea, agreeing that there must be freedom of navigation there.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella in an interview following the bilateral talks between the Philippines and Vietnam said "all are in agreement that there should be freedom of navigation," a "maritime freedom."

Both leaders, he said were in agreement that the area should be shared as it has always been used by everybody.

South China Sea serves as international trade path where billions of dollars worth of trading passes through.

The short meeting, which lasted for about 25 minutes, was more focused on getting to know each other and stressed of the positive relationship of the two countries.

Philippines and Vietnam share a history of trade relations, particularly on rice, which was also discussed during the bilateral talks.

The bilateral talks between the two countries is one of the three scheduled meetings of President Duterte on the first day of the 28th ASEAN Summit from Sept. 6 to 8.

2 more ASG bandits killed in Patikul clash, bandit death toll now at 32

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): 2 more ASG bandits killed in Patikul clash, bandit death toll now at 32
Two more Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits were killed in the ongoing focused military operations in Patikul, Sulu Tuesday, bringing the number of slain brigands in the more than two weeks offensive to 32.

Joint Task Force Sulu spokesperson Col. Rodrigo Gregorio in a statement Wednesday said the latest clash between government forces and the ASG took place 2: 35 p.m. Tuesday in the mountainous area of Patikul.

Gregorio said troops from the 35th and 21st Infantry Battalions were able to engage an estimated 30 ASG bandits being pursued by the 45th Infantry Battalion, killing two and wounding many more in the ensuing 30 minute-firefight.

Civilians claimed that the two downed bandits were immediately buried by their companions.

The fleeing ASGs were reportedly headed by Jamiri Jaong Jawhari and Basaran Arok.

Gregorio said no government losses were reported.

"There will be no let up in the effort to rescue the remaining hostages. Our priority is the safe rescue of the victims and protection of local communities in Sulu against terrorists and criminal elements," Joint Task Force Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega said.

"Local folks are gradually helping in protecting their own communities against the ASG scourge and showing defiance against the bandits," he added.

Dela Vega stressed that they are confident that more and more people in Sulu, including local government unit officials, community and religious leaders will cooperate in giving timely and accurate information to stop the un-Islamic and barbaric acts of ASG.

It may be recalled that the latest victim beheaded by the ASG, Patrick Almodovar is a local Muslim resident whose mother is a Tausug.

"We call on the Abu Sayyaf to stop these kidnappings and killings which are all violations of the Koran and against Islam as pointed out by Islamic scholars worldwide" Brig. Dela Vega concluded.

DND in the market for PHP7.5M worth of 5.56mm finished cases

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): DND in the market for PHP7.5M worth of 5.56mm finished cases

The Department of National Defense-Goverment Arsenal is set to acquire PHP7,575,770 worth of 5.56mm finished cases.

The latter is used by the M-16 automatic rifle and R-4 carbines in Armed Forces of the Philippines service.

Winning bidders are required to deliver the items within 180 calendar days.

Pre-bid conference is slated for Sept. 15, 11 a.m. at the Government Arsenal Metro Manila Liaison Office, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

PNP to use thousands of security guards vs. terrorism

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): PNP to use thousands of security guards vs. terrorism

The Philippine National Police (PNP) will use thousands of private security guards scattered nationwide as front-liners in the campaign against urban terrorism.

This is in line with the PNP's implementation of target-hardening measures in malls and other high-traffic civilian areas, with the help of private security agencies.

This was disclosed by PNP Supervisory Office for Security and Investigation Agencies (SOSIA) acting chief, Sr. Supt. Mario Espino, during the SOSIA's seminar for the private security industry in Camp Crame, Quezon City on Wednesday.

Espino said that with bomb threats circulating left and right, whether true or not, security guards are naturally the first responders in these situations.

Based on best practices, he said, deterrence is still the most effective way of countering any terrorist threat.

Espino explained that terrorists could be discouraged from carrying out their plans if they see that security is too tight for them to risk trying.

He reminded the country’s security guards, “Let's not make it easy for the terrorist.”

Four bomb threats rocked Manila on Monday and another bomb threat was received by the Makati City Hall on Tuesday, but all them turned out negative or a "hoax".

Presence of Chinese vessels in Scarborough Shoal, a precursor to building of structures - DND

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): Presence of Chinese vessels in Scarborough Shoal, a precursor to building of structures - DND

The presence of several Chinese vessels in Scarborough Shoal (Bajo De Masinloc), which lies 123 miles of Subic Bay, Zambales, is a precursor to possible building of structures in the area.

This was stressed by Department of National Defense (DND) public affairs office chief Arsenio Andolong in an interview Wednesday.

"We believed that this is precursor to possible building of structures on the shoal, which is why we are gravely concerned about this development especially (as) the shoal is well within our exclusive economic (zone) and we like to point out that the Ambassador of China denied this only a week ago," he added.

Earlier, the DND released pictures of the Chinese vessels lying off Scarborough Shoal. The photos were taken by Filipino military aircraft on overflight missions to the area last Sept. 3.

But prior the overflight, Andolong said the DND has prior knowledge of Chinese activity in the shoal as Philippine ships are regularly patrolling the area.

He added that DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana decided to make the information public after learning that the number of Chinese ships in Scarborough Shoal has increased.

The DND chief earlier said that there are 10 Chinese ships in the area, with four looking like Chinese Coast Guard ships, four similar to barges and two resembling troop ships.

And when asked what the DND and the military is planning to do, Andolong said they continue to monitor and conduct surveillance operations but said further action will depend on the order of the Commander-in-Chief, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

China gained control of Scarborough Shoal after a tense stand-off with Philippine Navy units in 2012.

Its maritime law enforcement units have been consistently driving away Filipinos they spot in the area.

Last July 12, the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China's claim over its "historic rights" to the West Philippine Sea and also pointed out that its 'Nine-Dash-Line' claim has no legal basis.

Peace panel eyes 1-year talks, 5-year implementation of reforms

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): Peace panel eyes 1-year talks, 5-year implementation of reforms

The government (GRP) panel negotiating peace with the National Democratic Front (NDF) is committed in signing a final peace agreement with communist guerillas within one year, giving the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte five more years to start implementing key reforms mutually-agreed upon by both parties.

Government negotiator Hernani Braganza disclosed that the Duterte administration has set a self-imposed deadline to wrap up the peace talks in a year's time to allow the implementation stage of the peace process to take root before the President's term ends in year 2022.

"The negotiation stage may be difficult, but the real test of the peace process lies in the implementation of social, economic, and political reforms mutually-agreed upon by both parties," Braganza told participants of the Central Visayas People's Summit for Peace and Change held in Cebu City.

"The Duterte government and the NDF share a common mission: address the root causes of the armed conflict. Both panels are guided by this mission and we are serious in finding joint solutions to attain just and lasting peace," he added.

Braganza expressed optimism that both panels would be able to finish the negotiation within one year following an agreement in Oslo to accelerate the timetable that binds their Reciprocal Working Committees (RWCs) and Reciprocal Working Groups (RWGs) to complete work on the substantive agenda of the peace negotiations within specific timeline.

Part of the agreement was a commitment by the RWCs on Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) of both panels to "endeavor to complete work within a period of six months."

Discussions on CASER is expected to last the longest among items in the substantive agenda as these involve the most contentious issues such as agrarian reform, national industrialization, and foreign policy.

Braganza explained that CASER is considered the "heart and soul" of the peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDF, pointing out that work on socio-economic reform would determine the outcome of the talks.

"Fast-tracking discussions on CASER means accelerating the process of seeking political settlement with the NDF and ending almost half a century of armed conflict with communist guerillas," Braganza added.

Another agreement signed in Oslo requires the RWGs on Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR) to abide by the following timetable:

* Exchange of drafts by September 2016;

* Common draft by October 2016;

* Discussions on common draft on November 2016;

* Drafting of common draft at RWC level by December 2016; and

* Completion of final draft by January 2017 for submission to respective Panels.

Also agreed upon was the timetable set by the RWGs on End of Hostilities/Disposition of Forces (EoH/DoF), which are required to commence their work on draft outlines by Oct. 24,2016, without waiting for the result of discussions on other substantive issues.

The other major agreements that were signed in Oslo include:

* Reaffirmation of previously signed agreements since The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, including the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) "subject to further developments and enhancements as may be mutually agreed upon."

* Reconstitution of the JASIG List which was presented by the NDF Panel to the GRP Panel. The JASIG protects certain NDF leaders and consultants from arrest and prosecution in recognition of their participation in the peace process.

* Formal revitalization of the Joint Monitoring Committee, a mechanism crucial in the implementation of CARHRIHL.

* Commitment of the GRP to "cause the early release of prisoners (as listed by the NDF) who are sick, elderly, overly long detained, and women based on humanitarian grounds."

* Recommendation for President Duterte to "issue an amnesty proclamation, subject to concurrence of Congress, for the release of prisoners who are listed by the NDF and who have been arrested, imprisoned, charged, and/or convicted for alleged acts or omissions within the ambit of the Revised Penal Code or special laws in connection with crimes in pursuit of one's political beliefs."

Braganza, at the same time, called on ordinary citizens to get themselves involved and participate in public discussions related to ongoing peace talks between the GRP and NDF.

He noted that the government panel would continue holding public consultations with various groups in the Philippines to solicit their positions and inputs on issues that would form part of the agenda in the peace negotiations.

"We are negotiators for the Filipino people. We want to get their position on issues up for discussion so these can be taken into consideration during negotiation," Braganza said.

"This is not a mere discussion between two panels of negotiators. We want all voices to be heard and amplified in the negotiating table," he added.

Military personnel tasked to implement measures to suppress, prevent lawless violence to be given 'TIE'

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): Military personnel tasked to implement measures to suppress, prevent lawless violence to be given 'TIE'

To prevent possible human rights violation charges, military personnel tasked to implement measures to suppress and prevent lawless violence, will be provided with "Troop Information and Education" (TIE).

"AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya directed the conduct of TIE to our soldiers in the field, particularly those in the Western Mindanao Command, Eastern Mindanao Command and National Capital Region through the most expedient means," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said in statement Wednesday.

This follows the signing by President Rodrigo Duterte of Proclamation Number 55 Declaring a State of National Emergency on Account of Lawless Violence over the weekend.

"The lectures will cover what the proclamation entails and how this translates to the AFP," Arevalo said.

The military official said the TIE would also lay down the guidelines on how to perform specific tasks related to the proclamation.

Arevalo said these tasks included, but not limited to, the conduct of checkpoints, foot or mobile patrols, enforcement of curfews whenever and wherever necessary in tandem with the Philippine National Police (PNP).

And by the conduct of TIE, the AFP would like to ensure proper information and knowledge management to its officers and men on the ground, he said.

"We would like to ensure that as we respond to the Commander-in-Chief's call for the AFP to help suppress lawless violence in Mindanao and prevent its spread in other areas of the country, the execution of our tasks will always be proper and with due regard to every citizen's entitlements under the Bill of Rights," Arevalo pointed out.

"We would like to enlist the willing cooperation of our Kababayans in this endeavor to suppress lawless violence and prevent the spread of similar violent incidents in other parts of the country," he said.

Courage, valor of PEFTOK members remembered Wednesday

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): Courage, valor of PEFTOK members remembered Wednesday

The courage and valor of the members of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) was remembered Wednesday as the nation joins in the commemoration of the 17th Korean War Veterans of the Philippines Memorial Day at the Korean War Memorial Pylon, Libingan ng mga Bayani, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

Army officers and enlisted personnel headed by Brig. Gen. Robert M. Arevalo, Philippine Army (PA) chief-of-staff, joined the Filipino- Korean Veterans and Korean community in remembering the courage and heroism shown by the Filipino- Korean War Veterans who composed the PEFTOK.

His Excellency Kim, Jae Shin, the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, was the guest of honor and speaker.

Meanwhile, a flag-raising ceremony and the 42nd PEFTOK Veterans Association, Inc. Annual Convention were also conducted at the Korean Memorial Hall along Bayani Road with AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo R. Visaya as the guest of honor and speaker.

PEFTOK’s mission was to defend the Republic of Korea against communist conquest.

The first PEFTOK, the 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) reached South Korea in September 1950.

They were deployed to South Korea in fulfillment of the Philippines pledge of assistance to the United Nation’s effort to stem North Korea’s Communist invasion of South Korea in 1950s.

Massively outnumbered, the 10th BCT with only 900 men withstood the night attack of an entire Chinese Army of 40,000 men during the Battle of Yuldong in North Korea on April 23, 1951.

Considering the strength of the Chinese, all UN forces retreated, except the Filipinos who engaged the Chinese People’s Volunteer (CPV) army in a bitter close quarter fighting. UN Command ordered the Filipino forces to disengage but was ignored and instead they engaged the enemy up to the last man.

The 20th BCT relieved the 10th BCT, which returned to the Philippines covered in glory as “The Fighting Tenth” on Sept. 5, 1951.

The 20th BCT again seized Hill Eerie, a strategic observation post that proves invaluable to PEFTOK in the coming battles against CPV.

The 19th BCT replacing the 20th BCT emerged victorious after a fierce four-day battle to defend Hill 191 and Hill Eerie in June 21, 1952.

This gory “Battle for Combat Outpost No. 8” inflicted heavy losses on the Chinese.

Triumphant Filipinos plant the national flag on the summit of Hill 191 to proclaim their victory over the Chinese.

On March 26, 1953, the 14th BCT took over the PEFTOK colors in Korea. It was then followed by the last PEFTOK contingent, the 2nd BCT, that arrived in Korea on April 19, 1954 and returned to the Philippines on June 1955.

Indeed, the PEFTOK soldiers fought on and inspired the whole UN effort to stem the communist attack.

This great Filipino victory helped deny the communists the decisive victory that would have ended the Korean War with their complete conquest of the Republic of Korea and the destruction of the United Nation Command.

It would be an understatement to say that they prevented the UN front from collapsing.

The Philippines and its 20 other UN allies paid in blood and pain for defending the democracy in South Korea. The war between democracy and communism took the lives of 112 Filipino soldiers, wounding 313 others and 16 missing.

This year’s celebration of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Day, the PA as well as people of the Republic of Korea remembered the heroism of the PEFTOK soldiers and their invaluable service not just to the country, but to the attainment of world peace as well.

US gov’t turns over USD900-K worth of anti-terrorism equipment to PNP

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): US gov’t turns over USD900-K worth of anti-terrorism equipment to PNP

The United States government turned over Wednesday USD900,000 (PHP41.4 million) worth of modern anti-terrorism equipment to the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The Diplomatic Security Service’s Office of Anti-Terrorism Assistance of the US Embassy in Manila turned over the equipment to the PNP.

Chief Supt. Nestor Quinsay Jr., PNP acting director for intelligence, said the donation is a clear manifestation of the sincerity of the US government to help an ally such as the Philippines to strengthen law enforcement capability and counter-terrorism functions of the PNP.

Lon Fairchild, Regional Security Officer of the US Embassy and PNP Chief Dir. Gen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa led the signing of the “Deed of Donation” held at the Multi-Purpose Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Dela Rosa jokingly said that he heard in the news that US President Barrack Obama had cancelled his meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, which could have also cancelled the donation.

The PNP chief noted that the donation is very timely for the government’s all-out war against crime and terrorism. The equipment will be used by the PNP Special Action Force, the Explosives and Ordnance Division, K-9 Unit, and the Crime Lab of the PNP.

PHL, China in back-channel talks over presence of Chinese ships in disputed shoal – Palace exec

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 7): PHL, China in back-channel talks over presence of Chinese ships in disputed shoal – Palace exec

A senior Palace official disclosed Wednesday that the Philippines and China are engaging in back-channel talks regarding the presence of several Chinese vessels near a disputed shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

In a televised press conference held in Vientiane, Laos, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the issue is being clarified.

“There are back-channel talks. At this stage, it is an ongoing conversation, so it would be best to leave it there,” Abella said.

Earlier, the Philippine government has released to media attending the ASEAN meet photos of several Chinese vessels in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), which lies about 198 km. west of Subic Bay, Zambales.

The photos were taken by Philippine military aircraft during overfly missions last September 3.

Abella said the photos were released to the media to let others know that the Philippines is very much aware of current developments in the disputed waters.

“Basically, it’s simply to announce that we are aware of all and any movements in the area,” Abella said.

In Manila, defense officials said Wednesday the presence of the ships is a precursor to the possible building of structures in the area.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has decided to release the information to the public after learning that the number of Chinese ships in Scarborough Shoal has increased.

The defense chief earlier said that there are 10 Chinese ships in the area, with four looking like Chinese Coast Guard ships, four similar to barges and two resembling troop ships.

China gained control of the Scarborough Shoal after a tense stand-off with Philippine Navy units in 2012.

Its maritime law enforcement units have been consistently driving away Filipinos they spot in the area.

Last July 12, the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidated China's claim over its "historic rights" to the West Philippine Sea and also pointed out that its 'Nine-Dash-Line' claim has no legal basis.