Sunday, February 19, 2017

AFP still open to peace talks with rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 20): AFP still open to peace talks with rebels

Despite the all-out war campaign against the rebels, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is still open for the government to renew peace negotiations with the New People's Army (NPA).

However, this does not mean that the military will tolerate NPA attacks and atrocities on civilian and other targets, AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año said in an interview over the weekend.

"We are not against the path to peace but we will not allow the NPAs to conduct atrocities and similar activities that will imperial the lives of ordinary people in the communities," he added in Filipino.

With this, Año said they are exerting pressure on the NPA to force the latter to go back to the negotiating table.

This is in line with the no-military pressure being exerted by other agencies and bodies.

"You need military and non-military pressure so that they will forced to go back to the negotiating table," he added.

On Feb. 4, President Rodrigo Duterte terminated the peace talks after a series of unprovoked rebel attacks against military targets, killing six soldiers and abducting another three people.

In the ongoing campaign against the NPAs, the AFP chief said that they already have 30 encounters with the rebels resulting in the neutralization of 44 insurgents.

This can be broken down into 15 captured, 12 killed and 17 surrendered, Año said.

Troops engaged in curbing terror groups in high spirits -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 20): Troops engaged in curbing terror groups in high spirits -- AFP

Troops tasked to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf Group and other terror threats are in high spirits due to the support given by higher headquarters and President Rodrigo Duterte.

This was disclosed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año in an interview over the weekend.

"The campaign is going quite well and the attitude (and morale) of our soldiers engaged in the fighting are good, they are motivated and they are really doing their job even beyond the call of duty," he added.

Año attributes this the support being extended by AFP headquarters, major service commanders, and President Duterte, who have provided additional funding for these servicemen engaged against the terrorists.

"Momentum is on our side, and (the ASG) is now losing their will to fight, eventually some of them will lie low, some of them will surrender," he added in Filipino.

The AFP chief added that the bandits will further disintegrate once the military gets further support from the community.

Año earlier set a six-month deadline to eliminate terrorists and bandit groups in Mindanao upon his assumption of the AFP's top post last December.

The campaign is now on its second month.

Military, Moro rebels 'shoot for peace'

From the Philippine Star (Feb 19): Military, Moro rebels 'shoot for peace'

Key public officials prepare to fire symbolic shots to mark the start of the “shoot for peace with love” multi-sectoral pistol and rifle competition in Camp Siongco in Maguindanao. John Unson

Hundreds joined the February 18-19  “shoot for peace with love” at the Army’s Camp Siongco, meant to foster solidarity among stakeholders to the southern peace process.
Pistol and rifle experts from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), from the police and from different units of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6th ID) joined the contest.
The event was jointly organized by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, Major Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. of the Western Mindanao Command and 6th ID’s commander Brig. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega.
A team of journalists from different outfits also joined the shooting match, supervised by the Cotabato City Pistol and Rifle Association (CCPRA).
The CCPRA is a government-accredited gun club whose members are actively supporting Malacañang’s peace overtures with Moro sectors.
The symbolic launching of the activity on Saturday was attended by the chief executive of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Gov. Mujiv Hataman, Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu and House Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Sandra Sema.
The group of reporters who joined the competition was led by former Cotabato City councilor Florante Formento, manager of the Brigada FM station in Cotabato City.
The MNLF’s team was personally escorted to the Camp Siongco shooting range by former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema.
Sema is the chairman of the largest and most politically active faction in the MNLF, which is not hostile to the MILF.
The MNLF forged a peace agreement with the national government on Sept. 2, 1996, while yet a monolithic group then led by its founder, Nur Misuari, who is so opposed to the current government-MILF diplomatic dealings.
Dureza, in a message, urged Mindanao’s Muslim, Christian and Lumad communities to continue helping push the southern peace process forward.
The peace process aims to put a negotiated closure to the “Moro issue” hounding the nation for more than four decades now.
“The Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the MILF and MNLF, the private sectors and all stakeholders to the peace process must not shoot at each other, but all together shoot down poverty, extremism, illiteracy and bigotry instead. These are the scourges of society that condone misunderstandings and conflicts,” Dureza said.
Col. Markton Abo, 6th ID’s civil-military relations officer, said the Army and police teams that participated in the two-day “shoot for peace with love” were comprised of combined Muslim and Christian uniformed personnel.
“These are the kind of competitions that will inculcate among them the importance of teamwork and cooperation to achieve noble goals,” Abo said.

Russian officials praise Rody’s stand on US

From the Philippine Star (Feb 19): Russian officials praise Rody’s stand on US


President Duterte said the Russian officials gave him that impression during their meeting last Thursday in Davao City. Russian officials, including Ambassador Igor Khovaev, were in Davao recently to finalize the cooperation between the Philippines and Russia. AP/Aaron Favila

President Duterte has claimed the Russian federation led by National Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev admires him for being the only president who stood up against and cursed a sitting president of the United States.

Duterte said the Russian officials gave him that impression during their meeting last Thursday in Davao City. Russian officials, including Ambassador Igor Khovaev, were in Davao recently to finalize the cooperation between the Philippines and Russia.

“And the Russians said that I’m the only one who said something about the president of America and the American policy itself,” Duterte told his mistahs during their class get-together at the Baguio Country Club last Friday.

Duterte has been an adopted member of Philippine Military Academy class of 1967 since he was mayor.

“Every time they (US) say something about their assistance, it seems that they are trying to make it appear that we will go hungry without it. So I really exploded. So that you will know what is in my heart,” he added.

Duterte insulted and cursed former US president Barack Obama after Obama criticized Duterte’s drug war, which is marked by summary killings and human right violations. He explained that he was offended when US officials dangled assistance after he opposed their statements on his drug war.

Duterte also threw profanities at the United Nations, European Union and human rights groups who criticized his bloody drug war.

Training exchange

Duterte also said that the result of his talk with Russian officials is an impending training exchange between Filipino and Russian soldiers and policemen.

“We discussed so many matters and they want to train our soldiers also and initially last night, I committed to send 10 Philippine National Police members and 10 members of the Armed Forces,” the President said.

“We have to connect not only (for) weapons but (for) the critical mass of information that we can share with them. We cannot afford to just wait for something out of this generosity,” he added.

Duterte moved to craft an independent foreign policy that allowed him to have bilateral relations with the country’s non-traditional allies such as Russia and China, despite China’s excessive claims in the South China Sea and a UN tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines territorial claims.

Duterte is happy about the turn of events with China despite the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

“And so in Davao City, it’s really a busy day for me ‘cause the Chinese are coming, business and all, and even the military,” he said.

PH army to create task force to chase big drug syndicates

From InterAksyon (Feb 19): PH army to create task force to chase big drug syndicates

Camp Aguinaldo, headquarters of the AFP. The Philippine army will create a "battalion size" task force to help the government's anti-narcotics agency run after high-value targets in President Duterte's war on drugs, Armed Forces chief Eduardo Año said. INTERAKSYON.COM FILE

The Philippine army will create a "battalion size" task force to help the government's anti-narcotics agency run after high-value targets in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, the country's military chief said.

Duterte - who recently suspended the national police from the anti-narcotics campaign that has killed over 7,700 people in seven months - has ordered the military to play a role in his crackdown. He has said that he also wants to grant troops powers to arrest "scalawag" police.

The announcement came after it emerged last month that drug squad officers had killed a South Korean businessman at national police headquarters.

The troops, however, will only provide back-up in the campaign and not patrol the streets or play any kind of leading role, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Chief Isidro Lapena told Reuters earlier this month.

"We are ready to operate with the PDEA. (The task force) is yet to be created, but we are talking about a battalion size," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief General Eduardo Ano told reporters late on Saturday in Baguio City, where Duterte attended a military alumni homecoming.

Up to 5,000 soldiers could be mobilized under the task force, or only 500 depending on the threat, he said.

Ano, however, ruled out a bloody operation by the task force, unlike some of the raids conducted by the national police.

"The AFP will not do that, we will not be involved in the street, we'll not be involved in running after street pushers," he said. "The armed forces will help the PDEA in running after high-level drug syndicates."

In his speech during the military alumni homecoming, Duterte said: "I need the help of each one, especially the military, not for social control but protection (for) the citizens from the lawless, the reckless, and the selfish."

He declared his war on drugs to be "by and large successful", but added the problem was more complex than he had thought and that is why he needed the military to play a role.

US carrier group patrols in tense South China Sea

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 19): US carrier group patrols in tense South China Sea

Sailors man the rails as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier departs on deployment from the Naval Station North Island in Coronado, California, in Jan. 5, 2017 Reuters file photo.

A United States aircraft carrier strike group has begun patrols in the South China Sea amid growing tension with China over control of the disputed waterway and concerns it could become a flashpoint under the new US administration.China's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty in the South China Sea.

The US navy said the force, including Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, began routine operations in the South China Sea on Saturday. The announcement was posted on the Vinson's Facebook page.

The strike group's commander, Rear Admiral James Kilby, said that weeks of training in the Pacific had improved the group's effectiveness and readiness.

"We are looking forward to demonstrating those capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region," he was quoted as saying by the Navy News Service.

Friction between the United States and China over trade and territory under US President Donald Trump have increased concerns that the South China Sea could become a flashpoint.

China wrapped up its own naval exercises in the South China Sea on Friday. War games involving its own aircraft carrier have unnerved neighbors with which it has long-running territorial disputes.

China lays claim to almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of trade passes each year.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim parts of the waters that command strategic sea lanes and have rich fishing grounds, along with oil and gas deposits.

The United States has criticized Beijing's construction of man-made islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea, and expressed concern they could be used to restrict free movement.

U.S. and AFP chaplains work together to help At-Risk Communities

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 19): U.S. and AFP chaplains work together to help At-Risk Communities

Chaplains from the U.S. Armed Services and Armed Forces of the Philippines met Thursday at the Shrine of St. Therese for a professional and spiritual workshop on caring for persons with substance abuse addiction.

 The subject matter expert exchange, titled “Preventing and Addressing Alcohol and Drug Problems,” offered the chaplains an opportunity to share best practices in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery.

The training featured presentations on substance abuse prevention and treatment from U.S. military chaplain Lt. Col. Leah Boling, a native of Davao, who specializes in professional counseling.

The chaplain exchange highlights one of over eighty subject matter expert exchanges set for this year where U.S. and Philippine service members exchange experiences and skills to bolster the capabilities and readiness of both services.

 Each exchange occurs at the invitation of the Government of the Philippines and at the direction of U.S. Pacific Command. (US Embassy Manila)

Duterte vows to uphold the sanctity of common good at PMA homecoming

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 19): Duterte vows to uphold the sanctity of common good at PMA homecoming

President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday vowed to always uphold the sanctity of the common good as the highest goal that always benefits the next generation of Filipinos.

In his speech during the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Alumni Homecoming at Fort Del Pilar, the President said his administration continues to work to uplift the living conditions of Filipinos as he promised to uphold the common good.

The President said as an immigrant from Visayas to Mindanao, he and his family hoped for a better life in the so-called ‘Land of Promise.’

But now, it is threatened by climate change caused by man-made disasters like extractive industries, he lamented.

"The rest of the nation is threatened by the widening gap between the rich and the poor, crime, corruption, criminality, and illegal drugs," Duterte said.

"Government must now deliver goods and services to really serve the people, not just the interest of the few. In the past, our government was on the verge of failure because those who were in the position to help deliberately made wrong decisions which favored only themselves,” he added.

As part of his commitment during his first State of the Nation Address, he said his administration is working to ensure that basic human services are available to all, that there is food and medicine, water and sanitation, shelter, public safety, education, and economic opportunities.

Attaining peace and order is paramount, he said, noting if there is peace and order, businesses and everything else will follow like Davao City where he was mayor for more than 20 years.

Duterte said what happened in Davao City can happen nationwide with the support of the public especially the military, who can help provide the protection of communities. There are major threats confronting the nation today, one is illegal drugs and the other is Islamic extremism, he said.

The President noted that the PMA, with the support of the AFP, was given instruction to wage war against illegal drugs which has already made significant inroads.

In the government’s fight against terrorism, the President said Isnilon Hapilon, the overall leader of the ISIS in the Philippines, has been severely wounded in an encounter with the military. To secure Mindanao, Duterte said he has directed the AFP and PNP to continuously contain the ISIS threat by intensifying operations against them.

Meanwhile, he said righteousness and discipline are the foundation of a nation, adding he desires a Philippines that is prosperous and inhabited by peaceful, law-abiding citizens.

"That is why I appreciate the PMA. You have the template of discipline and civility. I ask that you continue this tradition and thank you for inviting me to be part of you," he said.

"Let us together build a nation worthy of the Filipinos; Filipinos worthy of their nation; Pilipinong nararapat sa Pilipinas; Pilipinas na nararapat sa Pilipino; Nasud nga angay sa Pilipino, Pilipinong angay sa Pilipinas." (PND)

ASEAN integration to help solve terror, piracy threat

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 19): ASEAN integration to help solve terror, piracy threat

Terrorism and piracy are key security issues that can be positively addressed once ASEAN integration goes into high gear.

This was disclosed by Department of National Defense (DND) public affairs office chief Arsenio Andolong in an interview during the sidelines of the annual Philippine Military Academy Alumni Homecoming Saturday.

"In terms of security, with the coming of the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) into our region, it would be very important for all ASEAN states to get together to see that this issue will not develop further," he added.

Another security aspect the ASEAN integration can hopefully address is piracy in the Sulu Sea as this can develop into a bigger problem if left unresolved.

"If we would not address that now, it would became a major problem that would not only affect ASEAN but countries all over the world," Andolong said.

He was referring to the recent attacks against merchant and tug traffic in the area perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf bandits and other lawless elements.

The victimized ships are often Malaysian and Indonesian-flagged coal barges and tugs, with the bandits taking the crews and demanding a hefty ransom in exchange for their safe return.

"We hope that all these issues will be addressed once ASEAN defense and security officials start meeting and discussing of ways to remedy these issues," he added.

Battalion-sized military force to help in anti-drug war

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 19): Battalion-sized military force to help in anti-drug warBattalion-sized military force to help in anti-drug war

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año on Saturday announced that they are mulling the creation of a battalion-sized task force to help in the ongoing war against illegal drugs.

"We have no figures yet but we are talking about a battalion-sized formation," Año said during the sidelights of the annual PMA Alumni Homecoming at Fort Del Pilar, Baguio City.

These troops will be augmenting the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in anti-drugs operations.

Año added that the AFP task force can also provide intelligence support and target packaging if needed.

Also if needed, the task force can be augmented by additional troops if needed.

Año said this is possible as task forces are flexible formations which can be reduced or augmented depending on the security requirements.

"That's what it is, a task force depending on the requirement we can increase or we can decrease dependent on the situation," he added.

ASEAN fast-tracking West PHL Sea COC -- DFA

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 19): ASEAN fast-tracking West PHL Sea COC -- DFA

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) here is fast-tracking the framework of the Code of Conduct (COC) to address the mounting tensions in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

This was stressed by Foreign Affairs Spokesman and Assistant Secretary Charles Jose in a press briefing at the Alta Vista dwe Boaracay in Malay, Aklan Sunday.

"I think officials of both sides are working very hard to be able to meet this deadline, regardless on the part of the ASEAN, I think all ASEAN member states would like to see the early conclusion of the negotiation of actual Code of Conduct which I think will be useful for managing the region and in regulating the future behavior of the parties concerned in the South China Sea region," Jose told reporters in attendance.

The target date of the COC framework is 2017 and all members of the ASEAN are making extra effort to finish the job which is long overdue.

"The Philippines being this year's Asian host, would prefer not to escalate the tension because while they were talking to ASEAN for a possible COC, they are actually doing something else on the ground," Jose said referring to escalating rhetoric between China and US which is also fanning tensions among affected members of the ASEAN.

"The COC is a legally binding document. Hopefully, since they are coming up with the framework and will be trying to put flesh on the framework so long as we go along towards the final negotiated COC," he added.

According to Jose, we have waited for many years in order to create a new dimension that will defuse tension among claimants of the disputed Spratly Islands.

"I think China is sincere in maintaining peace and stability and for managing tensions in the area," he noted.

Asked about the time frame, Jose declined to give specifics but assured concerned nations that they are working hard to attain peace and stability in the region which will be guided by the framework of the COC.

ASEAN member states and China signed the Declaration of Conduct (DOC), the mother of COC in November 2002 in Cambodia after years of negotiations.

The DOC embodies the collective commitment of ASEAN to promote confidence-building measures, engage in practical maritime cooperation, and set the stage for the discussion and conclusion of a formal and binding COC.

Jose stressed that the DOC has, by and large, “helped maintain the overall stability in the South China Sea.”

It has served as a platform for all disputant parties to communicate and exchange views. Some believe that the DOC at least has served as a moral constraint on all claimant states in the South China Sea.