Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Karapatan grandstanding with false, malicious charges

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 14): Karapatan grandstanding with false, malicious charges

THE KARAPATAN statement issued under the name of a certain Cristina Palabay and widely reported in media is a malicious accusation against the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Palabay is calling on President Duterte to investigate the alleged role of the military and the US government in the Davao bombing. Again, this is one more lie from the group’s “box of lies.”

I can’t really imagine how they create stories like this—a so-called “human rights group” choosing this time when families are grieving over the sudden, tragic deaths of loved ones, even as police authorities and government are doing their best to solve the case and identify the perpetrators. And here’s this group grandstanding for public attention.

Making malicious and false accusations is this group’s expertise. Its members and spokespersons always criticize but do nothing positive. In fact, they have not contributed anything to our country. They haven’t, can’t and won’t ever help or protect us against the enemies of the State. They select the people and cases to fight and seek justice for in their fight for alleged victims of perceived human rights abuses.

My only message to Palabay and to the group is to stop using the Davao bombing incident and its victims for their own benefit or to serve their political agenda. What happened last Sept. 2 was not a joke. Fourteen lives were lost and many more people were injured. Kindly stop making lies and falsely accusing others of heinous crimes or human rights violations to earn brownie points, in the guise that you have the people’s welfare at heart.


Defense chief: US soldiers capable of defending selves

From Malaya Business Insight (Sep 15): Defense chief: US soldiers capable of defending selves

DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana does not share President Duterte’s fear that American soldiers in Mindanao will be targeted for kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf group, saying the Americans are always holed up in their camp and are more than capable of defending themselves.

“‘Yung mga fears ni Presidente that they might be subjected to reprisal by Muslims (Abu Sayyaf), hindi naman siguro mangyayari ‘yun,” Lorenzana told the budget hearing yesterday of the House appropriations committee on the Department of National Defense’s proposed P178.3 billion budget for 2017.

“Let’s remember, these people are also combatants. They are not civilians subject to kidnapping by terrorists,” said Lorenzana.

Duterte on Monday said he wants American troops in Mindanao out as they could be victims of the Abu Sayyaf’s kidnap-for-ransom activities.

The US forces in Mindanao, numbering 107 soldiers, are helping Filipino soldiers in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, including assisting Filipino troops in the renewed campaign to end the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan.

The US soldiers are confined at the headquarters of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.

Malacañang has clarified that Duterte is not forcing American soldiers out of Mindanao but was merely warning them about what could happen if they remain there.

Lorenzana said US soldiers are confined in military camps and are also armed every time they go out.

“Nasa kampo lang sila. They won’t go out of their camps na mag-isa lang sila, or they’re also armed,” he said.

Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, a retired Marine captain, said American troops are a big help to their Filipino counterparts.

“We were not able to develop our own capabilities to protect our territories because we are focusing internally. We are moving towards that and the US, in one way or another, is helping us develop that capability,” he said.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said a pullout of US troops in the country “will help the country tread the path of an independent foreign policy.”

“With the recent bombing in Davao and the worsening problem of Abu Sayyaf and ISIS in Mindanao, clearly, the US has not in any way assisted our country in addressing these problems. The President is but right in driving US military out of the country,” she said

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said he is ready to explain to US officials Duterte’s statements on the pullout of US troops in Mindanao.

Yasay left for California Tuesday for talks with US officials before attending the 71st United Nations General Assembly in New York City.
He reiterated that Duterte does not want any harm to the Americans in Mindanao.

“If Secretary (John) Kerry will ask me the questions, I will say the very things to him and he will understand. He knew that there will be no change in our policy,” Yasay said though it is not yet clear if he has an appointment with Kerry.

The Department of National Defense said it had considered acquiring helicopters and other defense equipment from China and Russia but no deal pushed through because of a variety of issues.

DND public affairs service chief Arsenio Andolong said among equipment considered by the department for purchase from China and Russia during the “past administrations” were helicopters, armored assets, communications equipment, and humanitarian and disaster relief assets.

No acquisition was made because of “many considerations.”

“Some of them are cost, interoperability with our current platforms and personnel capacity, worldwide availability of spares, etc,” he said.

Duterte on Tuesday said the Philippines would now look to Russia and China for procurement of equipment for the Armed Forces’ modernization program. Recent acquisitions under the modernization program were made with US, South Korea, Spain, Israel, Italy, Poland, Italy and Canada, among others.

Former ambassador   Jose Cuisia questioned the wisdom of Duterte’s pronouncement that the country might acquire Russian and Chinese military equipment, saying it would affect interoperability not only with the country’s long-time allies but also even within the Armed Forces.

“We must keep in mind how can we have interoperability in equipment, how you can communicate, how can our Navy officers manning Chinese or Russian equipment communicate with their other US vessels for example,” Cuisia said.

Being a treaty ally of the US, the Philippine military has long relied on American made equipment to fulfill its defense needs.

MILF, MNLF told: Join gov’t fight vs terrorism

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 15): MILF, MNLF told: Join gov’t fight vs terrorism
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar appealed to the Filipino people to help the government fight “faceless” terrorists following the bombing of a night market in Davao City last Sept. 2.

The government should also directly ask the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front to help hunt down and arrest the terrorists responsible for the carnage, whether they be Muslim or non-Muslim.

These secessionist groups can show their sincere desire to let peace reign in Mindanao not only by meeting government across the peace negotiation table but also by going after criminals and kidnap-for-ransom jihadists like the Abu Sayyaf.

As it is, the MILF and MNLF fighters just watch from the sidelines as soldiers hunt and battle ASGs in the jungles. The MILF and MNLF only leave military intelligence guessing the whereabouts of armed groups operating or hiding inside territories they control in Basilan and Sulu.

The MILF or MNLF could have helped prevent the Davao City bombing by sharing the information they have on the ASG’s terrorism plans. They could have prevented the deaths of more than a dozen soldiers in a gun battle with ASGs early this September had they fought on the side of the military.

Why can’t they help government in its counterterrorism campaign? Is it because the terrorists are their relatives? Is it because they get paid to protect terrorists who are in their areas? Or do they just want soldiers to get killed in action?

The insurgents and soldiers should unite at least in suppressing terrorists or lawless elements to advance the cause of peace and order in Mindanao as well as to prevent civilian deaths.

Is the Philippines Still a US Ally?

From The Diplomat (Sep 14): Is the Philippines Still a US Ally? (By Phoebe Benich)

How long can the U.S.-Philippines alliance remain “rock solid” in the face of Duterte’s fiery rhetoric?

In the latest development in a trend of awkward U.S.-Philippines interactions, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday ordered all U.S. Special Forces to leave the southern island of Mindanao. U.S. Special Forces had been deployed to the region to assist Philippine security forces in their fight against the extremist militant group, Abu Sayyaf. Despite the training and information sharing provided by the United States, Duterte claimed that the U.S. presence worsens the situation and creates a target for Abu Sayyaf’s killings and kidnappings.

“For as long as we stay with America, we will never have peace,” he declared.
Unfortunately, Duterte’s demands are only the most recent upset to the U.S.-Philippines relationship in a chain of tense interactions that have largely defined the Duterte presidency. One major source of tension has been Duterte’s crackdown on the drug trade in the Philippines. Following up on a campaign promise to kill 100,000 criminals in his first six months as president, Duterte launched an anti-drug policy that has resulted in the extrajudicial killings of over 1,800 Filipinos since he took office in June of this year.

International outcry has failed to deter Duterte from this path. When the UN urged Duterte to stop the killings, the Philippine president threatened to leave the organization. More notoriously, Duterte preempted reports that the Obama administration planned to address the extrajudicial killings by calling President Obama a “son of a whore” (this nearly a month after calling the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines a “gay son of a whore”). Obama subsequently canceled his meeting with Duterte in Laos and Duterte issued a hollow apology expressing regret that his remarks “came across as a personal attack on the U.S. president.” While Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes maintains that the alliance remains “rock solid,” one wonders what more Duterte could do before the White House starts changing its rhetoric for the U.S. relationship with the Philippines.

The Philippines’ precarious position in the South China Sea escalates the impact of Duterte’s behavior from awkward gaffes to concerning displays of betrayal for the U.S.-Philippines alliance. Although the Permanent Court of Arbitration handed the Philippines a huge win in July with a ruling that invalidated most of China’s territorial claims in the region, China has by no means submitted to the ruling or sought any face saving way out. In fact, Beijing has pursued the opposite course of action. In the nearly two months since the court’s ruling, China has conducted military exercises in the South China Sea and launched a satellite that Beijing claims is intended to safeguard the nation’s maritime interests. Furthermore, while the G20 Summit convened in Hangzhou, the Philippines reported that Chinese Coast Guard vessels positioned themselves near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was created to protect against provocative actions like these. Reaffirmed by the Philippines’ Supreme Court on January 12, 2016, the EDCA allowed the United States to establish bases at five locations in the Philippines and solidified the importance of the U.S.-Philippines defense alliance in the face of a looming Chinese presence. Analysts have called the EDCA critical for developing minimum credible deterrence against threats in the region. However, the value of this alliance is incongruous with the disregard Duterte continues to demonstrate for the United States.

Duterte’s recent behavior demonstrates that either the EDCA has enabled an extreme amount of moral hazard or that Manila no longer considers Washington an important defense partner. By boldly guaranteeing military action if China attempts to take control of the Scarborough Shoal, Duterte threatens armed conflict with China that he could not wage without the support of the United States. However, Duterte’s attitude also resembles the sort of “go it alone” isolationist fever that seems to plague many of his contemporaries, so his apparent disregard for U.S. support could be genuine. It’s also possible that neither of these options explains the behavior and that Duterte is, as Obama said, just a “colorful guy” who sometimes forgets to keep the importance of the U.S. alliance in perspective (although the three are not entirely mutually exclusive).

In the end, the explanation for Duterte’s behavior matters less than whether or not the United States and the Philippines can present a strong alliance in a region of territorial disputes and terrorist threats. While Rhodes’ comments on the enduring strength of the relationship show Washington pulling its weight, Manila must do the same. If it fails to do so, the United States should critically consider the value Duterte brings to the relationship.

[Phoebe Benich is a DC-based analyst on Asia-Pacific security affairs.]

Ties are at turning point: China to PHL delegation

From the Business World (Sep 15): Ties are at turning point: China to PHL delegation

AMID a perceived shift in Philippines-US relations, China on Tuesday said it is marking a turning point in its relations with the Philippines.

Meanwhile, on the heels of Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s recent pronouncements critical of the United States and the United Nations, his Defense secretary assured a congressional hearing on Tuesday that the Philippines “will maintain the status quo” with regard to the West Philippine Sea -- the troubled waters in the Philippines’ dispute with China that are also significant to the Philippines’ security ties with the United States.

These ties are now seen to be tested by Mr. Duterte’s perceived antagonism toward the world power and longtime ally of his country.


On Tuesday, China’s top diplomat told a visiting Philippine delegation in Beijing that relations between China and the Philippines are at a turning point, adding that China hopes the Philippines can handle disputes “appropriately” and get relations back on track.
The remarks by Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin come as two countries at odds over sovereignty in the South China Sea try to sound each other out, and set parameters for dialogue on an issue in which both have vowed not to give way.

The mid-level visit was the latest part of some carefully calibrated engagement after a July ruling by an arbitration panel in The Hague that overwhelmingly favored the Philippines in its dispute with China over the South China Sea, invalidating China’s claim to most of the waters.

China has declined to recognize the ruling while Mr. Duterte has repeatedly said he wants peace with China, but will not make concessions on any part of the tribunal’s conclusion.

Mr. Liu said bilateral relations had “sunk to a low edge for reasons everyone knows.” China’s Foreign Ministry issued the same statement late on Tuesday.

“At present, China-Philippine relations are at a new turning point,” it quoted Mr. Liu as saying, adding that China hoped the Philippines “can meet China halfway, appropriately handle disputes and push relations back onto the track of dialogue, consultation and friendly cooperation.”
China’s bid to improve relations with the Philippines comes amid uncertainty, and acrimony, over the normally tight relations between the Philippines and its main ally, the United States, as Mr. Duterte shows little sign of dialing down rhetoric fiercely critical of Washington.

That tension, following US and UN concern about a bloody Philippine campaign against drugs, has created some speculation that Mr. Duterte’s resentment about what he sees as colonial-era American interference, plus the prospect of luring big-ticket Chinese investment, could nudge Manila closer to Beijing.

Mr. Duterte has, however, insisted he wants solid ties with both powers, and subservience to no country.


US President Barack H. Obama canceled a meeting with Mr. Duterte at an Asian leaders’ summit in Laos last week after a televised outburst by the Philippine leader.

Though that has caused jitters in Washington, Mr. Duterte’s softer tone towards China was not a cause for concern, according to some US officials.

In the latest of his series of meetings with the Philippine armed forces on Tuesday, Mr. Duterte hinted that he had met with China and Russia regarding the purchase of military equipment.

Speaking in Laos, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes suggested Philippine engagement with China suited the United States and would be seen as “a constructive development” if it resulted in peaceful problem-solving and followed international law.

China’s influential Global Times tabloid noted last week that despite the acrimony between Messrs. Obama and Duterte, China should “not hold too many illusions” about US-Philippine relations.

Referring to Mr. Duterte, the newspaper said that long term, it “will not necessarily be easy to deal with the Philippines under his rule.”

The 16-member Philippine delegation in China is comprised mostly of retired diplomats and is led by Rafael M. Alunan III, a trusted associate of former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos.

Mr. Duterte has picked Mr. Ramos as his point man for patching up ties with China, which were tested again last week when the Philippines published images of what it said were new Chinese vessels at the disputed Scarborough Shoal.


Mr. Duterte’s defense secretary, meanwhile, testified at a budget presentation at the House of Representatives that “we [the Philippines] will maintain the status quo” in the disputed waters -- regarding which Manila and Washington have always observed a mutually understood alliance, especially before Mr. Duterte became president.

The status quo, said Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, is “so that there would be no miscalculations, because we don’t have any assets to confront the other claimants in the area.”

Mr. Lorenzana also spoke about Mr. Duterte’s recent remarks that he wanted US forces out of Mindanao, citing among others threats to their safety.

Yung mga fears ni President na they might be subject to reprisal is hindi siguro mangyayari dahil nasa kampo lang sila. They don’t go out sa camps na mag-isa lang, may kasa-kasama sila na tropa or they are also armed [The President’s fears that they might be subject to reprisal probably won’t happen because they stay in the camp. They don’t go out alone, they are accompanied by troops or they are also armed],” Mr. Lorenzana told lawmakers.

He said there are only 107 US soldiers in Zamboanga, from more than 600 before.

“What they are doing is that they are conducting limited military and limited civil and military exercises in the area in conjunction with our military personnel and forces but the bulk of their job is to manage their assets in Zamboanga City,” said Mr. Lorenzana.

“Let us also remember that these people are also combatants. They are not civilians subject to kidnapping by terrorists,” Mr. Lorenzana also pointed out.

Mindanao, particularly its southwestern area, has long been the scene of intermittent fighting between government troops and the Abu Sayyaf and similar terrorist groups.

For his part, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Ricardo R. Visaya told lawmakers the military supports Mr. Duterte’s stand on US forces in Mindanao.

“He is our commander-in-chief and we are always behind him,” he said.


Meanwhile, the Philippine government late Tuesday took exception to remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in his opening statement at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council that day, criticizing the “President of the Philippines’s statements of scorn for international human rights law” as showing “a striking lack of understanding of our human rights institutions and the principles which keep societies safe.”

Mr. Zeid’s remarks were part of an opening statement at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council that day which also served as a report on the human rights situation worldwide. Syria, Venezuela, and Turkey topped the concerns in his address.

“Empowering police forces to shoot to kill any individual whom they claim to suspect of drug crimes, with or without evidence, undermines justice,” Mr. Zeid said of the Philippines. “The people of the Philippines have a right to judicial institutions that are impartial, and operate under due process guarantees; and they have a right to a police force that serves justice.”

“I strongly encourage the Philippines to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. My Office is ready to assist, including with respect to rule of law institutions and the prevention and treatment of drug use in accordance with international norms,” he added.

In response, Mr. Duterte’s Spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella said in a statement Mr. Duterte is “a respecter of human rights,” but has been “firm in saying that human rights cannot be used as an excuse to let the spread of drugs in the country run rampant.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), for its part, issued a statement saying that Cecilia B. Rebong, the Philippines’ Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, “today corrected the report” by Mr. Zeid and “stated that President Rodrigo Duterte has never empowered police officers to ‘shoot to kill’ any individual whom they claim to suspect of drug crimes.”

“What he said was the police have the right to defend themselves when their lives are endangered when drug suspects violently resist arrest,” the DFA said in its statement.

Delivering the Philippine statement on the second day of the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council in response to Mr. Al Hussein’s report, Ambassador

The DFA also said Ms. Rebong noted in the Philippine statement that Mr. Duterte “affirmed in no vague language his respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

“She pointed out that President Duterte has, in fact, urged civil rights organizations (NGOs and CSOs) to report any killings which are not in accordance with his pronouncements on the anti-illegal drug campaign,” the DFA also said.

US forces here to stay – Defense secretary

From the Manila Times (Sep 15): US forces here to stay – Defense secretary

AMERICAN soldiers deployed to Mindanao won’t be pulled out, the Department of National Defense said Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday the Philippines won’t cut its umbilical cord to its allies, a clarification prompted by the President’s statement on Monday that he wanted United States troops pulled out of Mindanao.

US troops. AFP Photo

There are 107 US troops in Mindanao, part of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) that provides assistance to Filipino soldiers, Lorenzana said.

The JSOTF-P operates under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US—a pact that allows US troops to train and advise the Philippine military without engaging in combat operations.

“They (US soldiers) are there because we don’t have enough capability [to secure the area]. We requested them to stay behind. What they are doing is limited to civil-military operations within the area in conjunction with our Armed Forces, but the bulk of their job is to manage their assets in Zamboanga City,” Lorenzana told lawmakers, referring to Camp Navarro.

Lorenzana presented the P178-billion proposed 2017 budget of the Defense department before the House appropriations committee on Wednesday.

“It’s just right for us to be allied with the United States because they are still the dominant military force in this part of the Pacific,” he said.

Lorenzana said US troops in Mindanao have two systems providing intelligence to their Filipino counterparts: the Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance system that can take images even at night, and a shadow drone system that hovers around Basilan and Sulu, lairs of the kidnapping and terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.

Muslim reprisal ‘unlikely’

The Cabinet official explained that President Duterte was concerned over the safety of the US troops, as they could be “subject to reprisal by the Muslims.”

But that’s unlikely, Lorenzana said, “because the US soldiers are just stationed in the camp.”

“They don’t go out of the camp alone. When they do, they are with a Filipino soldier and they are also armed,” he pointed out. “Let us remember that they are combatants, not civilians who are subject to kidnappings by terrorists.”

Washington said on Monday that Manila had not officially communicated Duterte’s demand to pull US military advisers.

Duterte on Tuesday said the Philippines would no longer conduct joint naval patrols with other countries in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to avoid getting into further disputes.

Three pacts

 Lorenzana also clarified that the Philippines won’t junk its three defense pacts with the US: the VFA, the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).

The MDT inked in 1951 states that both parties will defend themselves against external armed attack, while Edca provides that US forces, contractors, vehicles, vessels and aircraft may conduct activities on agreed locations inside Philippine military bases.

Such activities include training, transit, support and other related activities; refueling of aircraft, bunkering of vessels, and temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; pre-positioning of equipment, supplies and material; and deployment of forces and materials.

“What the President said is we are not going to cut our umbilical cord. As I understood it, we will maintain our alliance with our traditional allies. The military cooperation between the Philippines and the United States is important because our neighboring countries that are our friends are also allied with the United States,” Lorenzana said.

Key suspect in Davao bombing charged

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 15): Key suspect in Davao bombing charged

Police yesterday filed charges of multiple murder against nine suspects in the Sept. 2 terror attack here, including a man who, witnesses said, carried the bomb that killed 15 people and wounded 69 others in a crowded night market.

One of the suspects had been described as an expert in bombmaking who has links with international terror groups that sent members and leaders to some parts of Mindanao to flee from a US-led international manhunt.

The charges were filed past 5 p.m. at the city prosecutor’s office. Present at the filing were Senior Supt. John Dubria, Davao City police chief and other police officers.

Of the nine who were charged, only one has been identified, but police are withholding his name.

Identity withheld

Prosecutor Nestor Ledesma said the suspect’s identity will not be made public until after a conference among city prosecutors on the case.

Dubria also declined to give details about the motive for the bombing.

Earlier, Abu Ramie, the Abu Sayyaf spokesperson, claimed the blast was the work of the Daulat Ul Islamiya, an Abu Sayyaf-allied group.

“We are currently investigating his affiliation,” said Dubria of the key suspect.

Dubria also declined to comment on a statement previously made by Philippine National Police chief, Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, linking the bombing to “narcopoliticians.”

North Cotabato raid

A few days after Dela Rosa issued the statement, which contradicted that of Abu Ramie’s, authorities raided the lair of suspected bomb makers in M’lang, North Cotabato province.

Jokrie Buisan, a suspected bomb maker, was arrested but the main targets, Anwar and Guiamadel Sandigan, had eluded authorities.

The Sandigans were identified in an earlier report as siblings but authorities later said they were a father and son tandem and were among people that slain Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, had taught how to make bombs.

Sources later said Buisan had pointed to Abdulwahab Sabal, vice mayor of Talitay town in Maguindanao province, as among the clients of the bomb makers. Sabal had also been tagged by President Duterte as among government officials involved in drugs.

Police declined to comment on Buisan’s claim, but a few days later, arrested Sabal and his wife, Mohanna, as they exited Cotabato Airport in Awang, Datu Sinsuat town, Maguindanao province. Also arrested were Sabal’s bodyguard, Nasser Maulana, and driver, Norodin Abas.

Seized from the group of Sabal were a bomb, guns and “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride).


The Sabals and their men were flown to Manila and presented for inquest proceedings at the Department of Justice in Manila for possession of explosives, unlicensed guns and drugs.

Dubria said he is incapable of verifying Dela Rosa’s statement linking the bombing to drugs.

“It is a high-level information and as of the moment, I can only speak for the Davao City police,” he said.

On Monday, a relative of Sabal said the family received information that the vice mayor is being linked to the bombing.

U.S. Seeks Strategy to Sustain Philippine Ties Amid Rodrigo Duterte’s Outbursts

From the Wall Street Journal (Sep 14): U.S. Seeks Strategy to Sustain Philippine Ties Amid Rodrigo Duterte’s Outbursts

Obama administration working on response that wouldn’t jeopardize military ties to an Asian ally

U.S. officials said that the Obama administration has been stunned by the actions of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and that it was still working out how to respond.

Washington doesn’t want to jeopardize its military ties to one of its six allies in Asia, they said, and is waiting to see if Mr. Duterte’s words translate into substantive actions.

However, a senior U.S. official involved in Asia policy said the administration believed Mr. Duterte was alienating himself from the country’s political elites and the military. Both increasingly want strong relations with the U.S. to counter China.

This official said the administration doesn’t believe Mr. Duterte’s policies would be supported in Manila in the longer term. “He’s isolating himself from the country’s powerful institutions and families,” the official said.

Mr. Duterte’s name-calling and grousing about the U.S. and traditional institutions such as the United Nations since taking office earlier this year haven’t yet led to concrete action, U.S. officials and experts said. Mr. Duterte’s foreign secretary, Perfecto Yasay, has tried to mitigate some of his comments and is expected to do so again in meetings this week in Washington on a diplomatic visit planned months ago.

“I think that Yasay will try to reassure everyone that the alliance is solid,” said Amy Searight, senior adviser and director of the Southeast Asia Program at CSIS in Washington. The State Department, she said, “will express the same sentiment.”

More confidence-building measures are likely later in the month, when U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will host defense ministers from the Philippines and other countries of the Asia alliance in Hawaii, she said.

But over the longer term, Mr. Duterte’s anti-American sentiments could turn into a problem. “Initially it seemed that these comments were just a bit of a kerfuffle and just an interesting personality,” said Ms. Searight. “But then there was this drip, drip, drip of comments and it has become concerning.”

The removal of troops from the southern island of Mindanao—as demanded by Mr. Duterte on Monday—would likely have little impact on U.S. planning in Asia if it happened, said Scott Harold, associate director for the Center for Asia Pacific Policy at Rand Corp. But any move to curtail the U.S. presence in the Philippines could do some “serious, permanent damage” to the alliance.

Mr. Duterte’s behavior will be closely watched by other Asian allies, who may try to pressure him to mitigate his actions.

“I think it’s possible that some of them will be giving a message to the Philippines, telling them that they are putting the whole alliance at risk,” Mr. Harold said. “And they’ll be asking Duterte—if you ask the Americans to leave do you really want to face China alone?”

Military-to-military relations have so far remained unchanged. According to U.S. defense officials, the American military won’t cease operations in the Philippines or pull out of the country unless it receives a formal request from the government, which hasn’t arrived.

If Mr. Duterte continues to insist on a reduced U.S. presence in the Philippines, Washington is likely to try to avoid a public blowup. Since a military junta rose to power in Thailand, another U.S. ally in the region, the U.S. has pulled back on some of its cooperation but hasn’t publicly broken with the country.

“We continue to focus on our broad relationship with the Philippines, and will work together in the many areas of mutual interest to improve the livelihoods of the Philippine people and uphold our shared democratic values,” Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said this week.

Cmdr. Ross said U.S. Special Forces have been providing support in the southern Philippines for years at the request of different administrations in Manila. The U.S. forces have helped the government fight Abu Sayyaf, an Islamist militant group linked to Islamic State.

Across Washington, officials have largely been puzzled by Mr. Duterte’s rhetoric and see his outbursts as erratic. They also note the U.S. has had to deal with other similarly bombastic world leaders in the past.

Following the threat by Mr. Duterte earlier this week to order the removal of U.S. troops from Mindanao, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said voters face risks in selecting unpredictable candidates, in an apparent swipe at both Mr. Duterte and Republican U.S. candidate Donald Trump.

“The Filipino people made a decision,” Mr. Earnest said Monday. “And elections do say a lot about what kind of person is going to represent your country on the international stage…And I think that certainly is something that the Filipino people are well aware of right now.”

Pullout of US troops ‘needs study’

From the Sun Star-Cebu (Sep 15): Pullout of US troops ‘needs study’

More study. Vice President Leni Robredo calls for more study on President Rodrigo Duterte’s plans to pull out American troops from Mindanao, saying the operations of the Philippine Army against rebels could be compromised. The vice president shared her views on the issue during a meeting with the media at Rico’s Lechon in Lapu-Lapu City during her visit last Tuesday. (Sun.Star Photo/Cherry Ann T. Lim)

VICE President Leni Robredo advised caution on any plan to pull out American troops from Mindanao after President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his desire to see them go.

“This needs to be studied thoroughly, especially now when there is a war going on. The fight against the rebels requires a lot of resources,” she told the media in a gathering Tuesday at Rico’s Lechon in Lapu-Lapu City.

In the same venue, she also gave her views on an alleged plot to unseat Duterte and outlined her plans to speed up the provision of shelter for the poor.

Robredo said every decision has good and bad consequences, so all these have to be weighed, especially since the lives of Philippine soldiers are at stake.

Many soldiers have died in the fight against the terror group Abu Sayyaf.

“I think the President will decide accordingly. I think this is part of his efforts to seek an independent foreign policy,” she said.

On Monday, Duterte said he wanted US forces to leave Mindanao to avoid their becoming targets of the Abu Sayyaf. US forces in Mindanao help Filipino troops with intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla’s take on this was that Duterte had merely expressed concern for the Americans’ safety amid fears of reprisal from the Moros.

This, after Duterte lambasted the United States for the killing of hundreds of Filipino Muslims by US forces in the Battle of Bud Dajo in Sulu over a century ago.

Duterte brought up the massacre at last week’s Association of Southeast Nations Summit in Laos to drive home the point that US President Barack Obama had no right to lecture him on human rights violations in his administration’s bloody war against drug pushers.

At the summit, Duterte said he would not allow the Philippines “to be shouted at and lectured upon by any foreign country or by any president.”

No plot

Robredo also denied claims by Duterte that the Liberal Party (LP) is seeking to impeach him. She is the highest-ranking official of the LP in the present administration.

She said the LP had made an alliance with Duterte’s Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan party to support the president.

“He deserves our support. Our country can’t afford another upheaval,” the vice president said. “The success of his presidency is the success of our nation. I would discourage any attempt to destroy his administration. I will not support it because it is not good for the country.”

As Robredo expressed her support for Duterte, she said the president had also expressed support for her plans to boost housing as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), which coordinates the activities of the housing agencies.

“There is a backlog of five to six million homes. But we can produce only 200,000 socialized housing a year,” she lamented.

She hopes to eliminate this backlog by 2020. But the challenges are legion.

No budget

“HUDCC is not a department. Its budget is for salaries and operational expenses only, none for housing programs,” she said.

“We are now auditing the housing programs because the shelter agencies have resources,” she said, citing the National Housing Authority and the Pag-ibig Fund.
She also said the shelter agencies’ functions overlapped.

Robredo said the housing budget is usually less than one percent of the national budget only.

Another problem is Hudcc has to go through the Office of the President to get executive orders made in order to get things done because “we don’t have a mandate yet because we are not a department.”

She was optimistic, however, that HUDCC could be converted into a department, citing the support of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and President Duterte.

“President Duterte said whatever is needed to boost housing, he’ll be very supportive.” she said.


The housing czar said she was considering public-private partnerships for housing.
“I’ve placed a person just to take care of public-private partnerships. A good model is Quezon City. It partnered with Phinma Properties,” she said.

Under the partnership, landowners donate the land. The front portion is made commercial for the landowners, while the back portion of the land is for socialized housing.

“We will also look at other modalities,” she said. “Gawad Kalinga has usufruct, and it is working.In Valenzuela, public rental is being done, like in Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand. In Thailand, it’s mixed public rental and ownership. There’s an income threshold. If you don’t meet the income threshold, then you (qualify) for rental only.”

In Manila, she said, the preference was to build the socialized housing onsite and in-city. Off-site housing had not been successful, with many people who had been given relocation reselling the property given to them so they could return to Manila to find work.

Families also broke up, she said, with the breadwinners going back to Manila to work. Many off-site housing units were unoccupied due to the lack of income opportunities in these sites.

“Our metric (of success) should be changed. It should be how many families we brought out of poverty because we gave them a home, rather than the number of houses built,” she said.

With the cost of land high, Robredo also said, “Mid-rise (development) is the way to go.”

The Land Registration Authority is now doing an inventory of the government land available for housing, so that the government does not have to buy land from the private sector.


Robredo added that the Social Housing Finance Corp. had lowered the number of documents needed for home processing from 27 documents to nine documents.

“Processing for a house now takes two years. We want to shorten this time not only for the benefit of the informal settlers but also for the investors. It takes a long time for them (investors) to be paid.”

She said urban poor groups had to keep going back to Manila to process their papers, a situation she found unjust.

“They should make one visit only,” she said, after which the passing of the documents should already be done “government to government.”

She said they hope to set up a one-stop shop for the processing of all housing documents by yearend.

MILF anti-drug team searches for drug personalities in Maguindanao towns

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): MILF anti-drug team searches for drug personalities in Maguindanao towns

A team of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) men is now out in towns where local executives have been named by President Rodrigo Duterte as narcopoliticians.

Von Al Haq, speaking for the MILF that forged a peace deal with Manila, said the MILF has long been campaigning against illegal drugs "because it is haram (forbidden) in Islam."

Al Haq said the anti-drug team of the MILF is using diplomatic approach by first convincing parents or immediate relatives of drug personalities to submit themselves for religious reorientation so they return to Allah and do away with illegal drugs.

He identified the towns where drug personalities exist and do nefarious activities as Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Talitay, Datu Montawal, Ampatuan and three other towns.

The mayors and vice mayors of the towns of Datu Saudi, Talitay, Ampatuan and Datu Montawal were publicly named by President Duterte as narco-politicians.

"If the drug personality will resist, they will be dealt with accordingly," Al Haq said.

Since 2014, the MILF had been posting tarpauline and sinages along the national highway in Maguindanao declaring war against illegal drugs.

So far, more than 40 self-proclaimed drug personalities are now in Camp Darapanan, the bailiwick of the MILF in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, undergoing religious reorientation.

2 experienced officers assume top Army posts in Region 12, GenSan

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): 2 experienced officers assume top Army posts in Region 12, GenSan

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has designated two experienced Army officers to lead its field units here and in parts of Region 12 and the neighboring areas.

Army Col. Tyne Bañas formally assumed on Wednesday as the new acting commanding officer of the Army’s 1002nd Brigade based in Malungon town in Sarangani Province while Col. Diosdado Carreon took over as head of the Joint Task Force (JTF) GenSan.

Bañas, the former commander of the JTF GenSan, replaced Brig. Gen. Ronald Villanueva, who will assume a higher command post.

During the turnover ceremony, which was facilitated by 10th Infantry Division commanding officer Maj. Gen. Rafael Valencia, Villanueva acknowledged the support extended by local stakeholders to their unit in the last two years.

He said the assistance they received helped improve their operations and rollout of various programs and services.

In his stint as 1002nd Brigade commander, the unit achieved an “almost perfect rating” in its general inspection results.

Villanueva urged local government officials, other local leaders and residents to extend the same support and cooperation to Col. Bañas.

“I am turning over the unit to an officer who is committed to sustain the gains that we have so far achieved. I can assure you that the area will be in safe hands,” he said.

The Army’s 1002nd Brigade has operational jurisdiction over portions of the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and North Cotabato in Region 12, and Davao del Sur and Davao Occidental in Region 11.

It also covers the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Kidapawan and Digos.

Bañas said he will continue with the current programs of the unit and enhance their strategies in line with the campaign against terrorism.

“We will expand our collaborations with the police, local government units, national government agencies and community stakeholders to properly address the threats of terrorism in our areas,” he said.

Sarangani Gov. Steve Chiongbian Solon lauded the designation of Bañas as the new 1002nd Brigade commander as it assures the continuity of the programs started by Villanueva.

He specifically cited the community development initiatives of the unit that “won the hearts of many people in Sarangani.”

“The morale of the unit is very high and we expect that to continue,” the governor said.

Meantime, in a separate turnover ceremony, Col. Carreon vowed to exert all the necessary efforts to ensure that the city will remain safe and secure.

He said the JTF GenSan will take a “holistic approach” in terms of the accomplishment of their mission.

“We will work together will all local stakeholders as we address the threats of terrorism and other related activities within the city,” he said.

City Mayor Ronnel Rivera said the assignment of Col. Carreon as JTF head is a strategic move since the latter is an “experienced intelligence officer.”

“He has extensive experience in intelligence operations so we expect a better performance from the unit,” he said.

Carreon previously served in various Army units and had a stint as Defense and Armed Forces Attaché in Singapore.

Mayor Domogan looking forward to working with new BCDA leadership

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): Mayor Domogan looking forward to working with new BCDA leadership

Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan is looking forward to a healthy working relationship with newly-appointed president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, (BCDA) Vivencio Dizon, who took over from Arnel Casanova.

Domogan on Wednesday, September 14 said he was able to talk to Dizon and requested for an amendment of the agreement between the city and BCDA.

The mayor said the share of the local government unit (LGU) from the rental of the Camp John Hay Development Corporation (CJHDevCo) should be paid directly to the LGU.

Domogan explained that Baguio City ended up to be the loser in the court battle between the former leaders of BCDA and the developer where the Supreme Court favored the developer and ordered the BCDA to pay the developer PhP1.42 billion, the same amount CJHDevCo paid as rental.

With the new leadership in the BCDA, Domogan said CJHDevCo is willing to proceed with the development at Camp John Hay.

Development at the former US military camp was stalled at less than 25 percent.

Domogan said Resolution 362 or the 19 Conditionalities is part and parcel of the development of Camp John Hay which is being honored by the BCDA.

Army forms task force to disband private armed groups

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): Army forms task force to disband private armed groups

The Philippine Army has created the “Task Force Calbayog” in the bid to dismantle private armed groups (PAGS) in the city and nearby towns.

Col. Mario Lacurom, commander of the Army’s 803rd brigade, said their central command has ordered for the creation of new task force after the spate of killings of village officials and political leaders this month.

“Army troops has been deployed this week to different areas of the first congressional district of Samar with the primary mission to maintain peace and order in the area and to disarm, arrest all lawless elements such as the private armed groups,” Lacurom said

Records from the Calbayog city police office show that just in the first week of September 2016, six village officials and political leaders were shot to death by unidentified private armies.

Village chief Darwin Tan of Payahan village was the latest victim. He was murdered Sept. 9 while he was about to send his son to school.

“Private armies commit serious human rights violations against those perceived critics and political opponents perpetuating a climate of fear and repression,” Lacurom added.

The army confirmed that there are still splinter groups operating in the interior villages of Samar province.

And according to army reports, these groups cannot operate without the support of politicians.

Among the splintered groups are known as Montealto, Montealto-Belleza, Montealto-Moloboco, Montealto-Pasacas, Yrasga and Genesis Oquendo.

On Tuesday, Philippine National Police chief Director General Dela Rosa directed Samar police provincial director Sr. Supt. Elmer Pelobello to disband all private armies who are allegedly behind the recent killings of village officials and private armies.

1st round of peace talks between GRP, CPP-NPA-NDF a success, says peace negotiator

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): 1st round of peace talks between GRP, CPP-NPA-NDF a success, says peace negotiator

A member of the government peace panel announced the success of the first round of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the CPP-NPA-NDF in Oslo, Norway.

Government Peace Negotiator Hernani Braganza said in a local radio interview on Wednesday morning that the first round of the peace talks held in Oslo, Norway was successful as it brought the two sides, the GRP and the CPP-NPA-NDF back to the negotiating table and started a formal talk for peace.

An indefinite ceasefire had been agreed by both parties and within 60 days, a bilateral ceasefire may possibly be agreed upon by both panels.

Braganza said that next month, the second round of the formal peace talks between the GRP and the CPP-NPA-NDF will commence, still in Oslo, possibly during the first week.

Braganza was here in Butuan as the invited guest of honor and speaker during the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) 3rd Quarterly Meeting on Tuesday afternoon, held at a local convention center here, which happened to be the first under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

ARMM reiterates commitment for SEERP implementation in conflict -affected schools in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): ARMM reiterates commitment for SEERP implementation in conflict -affected schools in Maguindanao

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has remained steadfast in implementing the Special Emergency Education Recovery Program (SEERP) in 31 conflict-affected schools in Maguindanao.

The program, initiated under ARMM’s Humanitarian and Development Action Program (HDAP), is carried out through the region’s Department of Education (DepED).

Based on DepED-ARMM validation, a total of 12,215 students were affected by the conflict brought about by the Mamasapano incident in January 2015.

Also, an assessment conducted by the HDAP early this year involving 10,457 students in 31 schools in Maguindanao first division bared that 5,389 are malnourished and slow learners.

“Under the program, we conducted activities to help and encourage students to go to school,” Bai Taya Aplal, SEERP focal person, said.

Aplal said her office conducted a series of training and capability building for school principals, teachers, school nurses, guidance councilors, and school planning officers.

Under the SEERP, DepED conducts psychosocial support services, psychosocial first aid, food supplementation – two snacks and a lunch – and declaring the beneficiary institutions as “Salam” (peace) schools.

“Through SEERP, students are motivated to go to school. The psychosocial support services alleviate the physical and physiological attributes of the affected students and the community and parents help us too in sustaining the supplementary feeding activities,” Aplal said.

Apart from Mamasapano, other identified conflict-affected municipalities in Maguindanao include Shariff Aguak, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Datu Salibo, Talitay, Talayan, Datu Anggal Midtimbang, Guindulungan, Datu Piang, Rajah Buayan, Datu Unsay Ampatuan, Datu Hoffer Ampatuan, Datu Abdullah Sangki and Datu Odin Sinsuat.

The ARMM has allocated PHP13.2 million for the implementation of the special education recovery program and its support services.

The ARMM-HDAP is an initiative of ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman on efforts to implement government assistance, specifically on rehabilitation and reconstruction.

NOLCOM units on alert status for 'Ferdie' aftermath

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): NOLCOM units on alert status for 'Ferdie' aftermath

All units of the Tarlac City-based Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) are on alert for any possible disaster response and relief missions in the aftermath of Typhoon "Ferdie" which is now battering Northern Luzon.

In its 10 a.m. update, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has instructed NOLCOM to coordinate with regional and local disaster response management councils for precautionary measures to be undertaken.

Aside from this, all NOLCOM disaster response units (DRUs) including medical teams and equipment were alerted for possible deployment.

Assorted DRUs and assets were also pre-positioned in disaster prone areas along with engineer units to help in the clearing of roads that may be blocked by landslides or wreckage.

US forces can still help AFP in counter-terror ops should pullout in Mindanao proceed

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): US forces can still help AFP in counter-terror ops should pullout in Mindanao proceed

American troops, should the call for withdrawal in Mindanao pushes through, can still help their Filipino counterparts in counter-terrorism operations even if they are re-located in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

"They are able help even if they are Zamboanga City, they can help even if they are in Metro Manila (and other provinces) for example where they are least or less in peril from reprisals from the Abu Sayyaf Group and other terrorist group so we say (that) the assistance that they can provide us are, still exist and will continue to exist, its just a matter of switching the location," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo in a briefing Tuesday said.

Currently, US military personnel in Mindanao only amounts to 107, with all of them concentrated in the Western Mindanao Command headquarters at Camp Don Basilio Navarro, Calarian, Zamboanga City.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said US troops in Mindanao should leave as they could be kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists.

These American personnel are providing intelligence, technical and training to Filipino counter-terrorist forces.

American presence in the area started in 2003, with the creation of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines which was tasked to provide anti-terror training to the AFP.

Arevalo also clarified that these US service personnel are not participating in the ongoing military offensive against the ASG terrorists in Sulu and Basilan.

He added that the military take due notice of the pronouncement as Duterte's expressed concern for the safety of US servicemen in Mindanao.

""Pursuant to the same statement, he desires that our American counterparts should be eased from harms way. This refers to Western Mindanao (in particular areas like Zamboanga, Basilan & Sulu) where intense focused military operations combating terrorism are ongoing," Arevalo said.

The AFP public affairs office chief also added that they have yet to receive any specific directive as to how this pronouncement will be effected.

"We understand that the implementation of the said pronouncement is the subject of deliberations by concerned departments like DND (Department of National Defense) and DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) to mention some," he pointed out.

"We assure our people and allies that PHL-US defense relations remains rock solid. Activities line up for the year continue without interruption. Consultative planning activities for 2017 & beyond likewise remain on track," Arevalo concluded.

Sourcing military equipment from countries like Russia, China mandated by law - defense official

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): Sourcing military equipment from countries like Russia, China mandated by law - defense official

A defense official said Wednesday looking towards other countries, such as Russia and China as possible sources of equipment for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is mandated by the law.

Department of National Defense (DND) public affairs director Arsenio Andolong told PNA in an interview that Republic Act 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act, dictates that "we must not limit possible sources of our materiel to only a few countries as this will rob us of the opportunity to acquire what could be the best equipment".

Andolong said technical working groups of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have been conducting market research on new hardware and technologies from many countries, including Russia and China.

"For the record, we also looked at the offerings from Sweden, Germany and France," he said.

Andolong was commenting on President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement that Russia and China have agreed to provide armaments and other weaponry to the AFP for its counter-insurgency campaign.

"Of course, there are other considerations, such as cost,inter-operability with our existing equipment and personnel capacity," he pointed out.

The Philippines has traditionally sourced its military equipment from the US, Israel, South Korea and Japan, to name a few.

President Duterte bares plans for centralized AFP, PNP medical system

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): President Duterte bares plans for centralized AFP, PNP medical system

To have a centralized system that will provide medical services for both the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is what President Rodrigo R. Duterte envisions for the country’s uniformed services.

“I’m quite not comfortable with the arrangement now that ang Army, kung magpunta sa Air Force at doon magpa-ano, magbayad pa. And the Air Force in the field, it’s the expense of the Army, for whatever reason for any event, magbayad na naman, you have to pay inter-branch,” the President stated in his speech before the Philippine Air Force (PAF) during the 48th Anniversary of the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing.

“I’d like just to give you one service command para sa lahat. It would expedite matters and centralize everything,” he disclosed, saying he intends to undertake this plan and achieve it under his term.

The President proposed that this centralized system should cover the entire government troops belonging to the AFP and PNP.

“Pati na pulis. Kasi kawawa naman sila kung i-separate mo. Then we can have an improved V. Luna Hospital also. I will try to give you the things that you need,” he told the airmen of the PAF.

At the same time, PRRD is now in the process of approving an extension of the pilots’ quarters even if the government has very limited budget.

“Wala masyado akong pera ngayon. But I am approving the extension of the pilots’ quarters. It’s about two million plus. I’m giving it to you right away,” he said,

He also wants to continue to pursue the modernization program of the military which was started by the past administrations.

"I am committed to your modernization. And you will get it, during my time, kasi ‘yung timeline na ipinakita sa amin is within the timeline of my presidency,” he said.

Jamming of R4A3 carbine rifles caused by dirt -- PA spokesperson

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 14): Jamming of R4A3 carbine rifles caused by dirt -- PA spokesperson

Jamming of the brand-new R4A3 carbine rifles during the Aug. 29 engagement with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits was caused by dirt and not due to technical defects of the weapons.

This was stressed by Philippine Army (PA) spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao in a statement Wednesday.

"It can be attributed to environmental and operational factors," he added.

Around 15 soldiers were killed and 10 were wounded in the said encounter.

"Most of the rifles inspected by our firearms experts were full of dirt. After applying proper maintenance procedures, all rifles functioned well except for one M-14 rifle that has a destroyed barrel part,” Hao stressed.

He added the PA sent a team of rifle experts to check the veracity of the alleged stoppages of the R4A3 carbine rifles, a K-3 squad automatic weapon, and an M-14 rifle during the actual encounter of the 35th Infantry Battalion with the ASG in Patikul, Sulu last Aug. 29.

The team collected the eight R4A3s, the K-3 squad automatic rifle and an M-14 rifle which allegedly malfunctioned as reported by the using unit during the encounter.

Initial test made by the team showed that indeed, the rifles did not function when used as is, meaning the rifles were fired uncleaned.

However, after proper maintenance procedures were applied, all rifles functioned well.

“Our conclusion is that the problem is not about the rifles. The prevailing weather and sustained on-going operations against the ASG partly affected the proper maintenance and care of the soldiers’ rifles,” Hao said.

There was also an alleged problem on old ammunition used for R4A3 which is also the same used by the old M-16 rifle.

When presented to the firearms experts, the said old ammunition all fired using the cleaned rifles.

In order to remove the apprehensions of the soldiers on the ground about the old bullets in spite of the results of the test, the PA decided to issue new ammunition to the operating troops.

The PA also reminded all its troops to turnover firearms with destroyed parts to replace them with new parts that were already sent to the front-lines.

“We have already directed our operating troops to follow strictly the maintenance procedures of all our firearms and ammunition,” Hao explained.

“Even the best war fighting equipment needs proper maintenance too," he added.