Wednesday, April 5, 2017

USS Fitzgerald arrives in Subic Bay

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 5): USS Fitzgerald arrives in Subic Bay

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) arrived in Subic Bay on Saturday for a brief port call that highlights the strong community and military connections between the Philippines and the United States.

The ship’s crew will use the stop to conduct some minor repairs with the assistance of Philippine companies.

The United States and Philippines continue to build upon their 70-year history of partnership through defense cooperation, port visits, and military training activities. The American and Philippine militaries have worked together on areas of mutual interest including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterrorism, cyber security, and maritime security.

USS Fitzgerald is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Feature: Female soldier grateful for equal opportunities granted to women in military service

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 5): Feature: Female soldier grateful for equal opportunities granted to women in military service 

Grateful for Magna Carta

“I am grateful that the Magna Carta for Women have accorded us fundamental rights, protection and opportunities in our society,” said Sgt. Liezel Gonzaga-Soliven of the 1st Cavalry (Tagapanguna) Squadron, Mechanized Infantry Division, Philippine Army.

In 2009, the Senate and House of Congress enacted a law protecting women and children - - Republic Act No. 9710 otherwise known as “An Act Providing for the Magna Carta of Women,” a comprehensive women’s human rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination against women by recognizing, protecting, fulfilling and promoting their rights.

Discrimination no longer exist
Soliven observed that the issue on the discrimination against women on the recognition, enjoyment, as well as in the exercise of political, economic, social, cultural and civil rights no longer happens.

Women are now able to enhance and develop their potentials and skills. Aside from that, they develop their fullest capabilities as partners in nation building.

For this reason, she was able to join the military. “Unlike before, only men were admitted and joined the ranks in the Philippine Army, but now,women enjoy the same opportunity to serve in the military.

Gov’t opened doors for women

The government has opened its doors for women in the Philippine Army, for those who are physically and personally suitable for the job.

Dreamed to be a soldier

Soliven said it’s been her dream since she was a child to be a soldier.

When she was 17 yrs old, she was an officer of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). After graduation in college, she underwent probationary training course and eventually enlisted in the military service.

“I was determined to be a soldier so I actively involved myself in the ROTC and Probationary Officer Training Course,” Soliven explained.

Protect, serve the people

In 2011, Soliven said she decided to join the military service because she wanted to serve and protect the people and support her family.

“As the eldest in our family, I needed a permanent job in order to support my terminally ill father and fund the college education of my two younger brothers and sister,” Soliven narrated.

“With the salary that I received from my work, I was able to provide the daily needs of my family, pay the hospital bills and bought the daily maintenance medications of my father,” Soliven said.

“My brothers and sister are now professionals and they help me provide and meet the needs of our family,” Soliven proudly said.

Military changed her life

She said she was taught discipline and learned to value the importance of physical and mental health. “Physical training has been a compulsory part of our daily military life,” Soliven said adding that it benefits soldiers to have a healthy life and improve their efficiency.

“One thing that everyone seems to agree with is that as female soldiers, we can do something for our society. We can make a difference,” she concluded.

Duterte calls on Ph Army for continues help in drive against illegal drugs

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 5): Duterte calls on Ph Army for continued help in drive against illegal drugs

Duterte at PHL Army 120th anniversary rites

President Rodrigo Duterte has called on the members of the Philippine Army and all branches of the military to continue helping the administration’s drive against illegal drugs.

The call was made during the celebration of the 120th Anniversary of the Philippine Army at its headquarters in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

Being the commander-in-chief, the President can tap the military in the conduct of law enforcement operations by granting them police powers, if he deems it necessary.

Duterte also said earlier he was fortunate to have been empowered by the executive order of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo raising the level of the drug menace to a national security threat.

This, he said, would entitle him to use the AFP in the fight against illegal drugs.

In his speech during the event, the President said that since the establishment of the Philippine Army 120 years ago, “our history is replete with tales of our soldiers’ great sacrifices and significant victories to best protect our people and our national sovereignty.”

He promised continuous support to the members of Philippine Army saying that he current administration has been providing telecommunication apparatus, firepower and infantry fighting vehicles to the Army in line with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.

The administration has allocated almost P6.5 billion for Philippine Army projects under the Revised AFP Modernization Plan to procure individual equipment such as rifles, pistols, grenade launchers and force protection armors.

The President also recalled that he signed an Executive Order last September increasing the combat pay of soldiers from P500 to P3,000 per month and their combat incentive pay from P150 to P300 a day.

The Department of Budget and Management is also working on the proposed compensation adjustment to increase the base and hazard pays of military personnel, Duterte said.

He said the GSIS will also study the possibility of having a housing loan program that will complement the soldier’s ability to pay, noting that soldiers are more confident to perform their mandate if their loved ones are well-sheltered.

Moro clans in Maguindanao clash due to land dispute

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Moro clans in Maguindanao clash due to land dispute

Clashes erupted Tuesday afternoon in remote villages here between two rival Muslim clans who are fighting over control of vast track of agricultural lands, police said.

Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, Maguindanao police provincial director, said the armed conflict involving commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has displaced an undetermined number of civilians.

Tello identified the warring leaders as Commander Malambeg Guiad of the MILF and Gani Saligan of the BIFF, which is considered by the military as a terrorist group.

"They fight over territorial control in remote barangays of Gen. SK Pendatun, it has been a recurring armed conflict," Tello told reporters. The two armed groups are contesting several hectares of corn and rice fields in Barangay Midpandacan.

Saligan has been wanted for various crimes, including multiple murder, extortion, robbery and illegal drugs.

Government forces have been deployed to serve as peacekeepers and ensure the safety of civilians, mostly Maguindanaons.

The police also sought the help of ceasefire monitors of the government and MILF peace panels to bring down the tension to allow the return of displaced families who sought shelter at the town center.

The local government of Gen. SK Pendatun provided the evacuees with food packs.

Kadamay jubilant over housing units; deeper probe into housing situation urged

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Kadamay jubilant over housing units; deeper probe into housing situation urged

PANDI, Bulacan -- As members of the militant urban poor group Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) began to remove barricades along five government housing projects here, jubilant over the awarding of units to them, a partylist group belonging to the “Makabayan Block” in Congress on Wednesday asked President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to conduct a deeper probe on the housing situation in the country.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said the government should investigate the housing crisis in the country to find out why so many houses are left unoccupied despite the huge housing backlog that some quarters said happened during the previous administration.

Elago urged the Chief Executive to look into the reported substandard quality of these housing units and the fact that some of the units are being used as a business venture, being sold to buyers who are not poor.

“We laud the victory of collective action, as the occupants led by Kadamay militantly asserted their just right to housing through the occupation of idle housing sites. We now ask the Duterte administration to the next step – to hold an investigation and address the housing situation in the country, not just for the state forces but for everyone,” Elago said.

President Duterte on Tuesday allowed the Kadamay group to stay on their occupied nearly 6,000 units in five housing projects of the National Housing Authority (NHA).

The President said that he would give the occupied housing units to the Kadamay members and promised to supervise another housing project for the supposed military and police beneficiaries.

Elago said that according to the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), the housing backlog as of December 2016 was pegged at 2.02 million units, and this is expected to swell to almost 6.80 million by 2022.

According to the National Housing Authority (NHA), there are about 52,341 idle housing units as of last year.

"The Filipino youth will remain in solidarity with the urban poor in the fight for a free and decent housing program, and the struggle for a just and humane society. We will exert all avenues, from the socio-economic agenda of the GRP-NDF peace talks, to the demonstration of our collective action in asserting our right. For as long as the crises of the urban poor in housing and labor remain, expect more occupations and re-occupations as a growing resistance to the rotten anti-poor system,” Elago added.

Meanwhile, a euphoric atmosphere engulfed the occupied sites in Villa Elise in Barangay Masuso, the Padre Pio housing project in Barangay Cacarong Bata; the housing project for jail and penology employees and firemen in Barangay Cacarong Matanda; the Villa Louise housing site in Barangay Siling Matanda; and the Pandi Heights 2 and 3 housing projects in Barangay Mapulang Lupa, all in this town, after Kadamay members learned of the President’s announcement Tuesday.

Norman dela Cruz, who was among those tasked to serve as security details during the “tug-of-war” period between their group and the NHA, said that many urban poor who were displaced during demolition of their former shanties can now have a shelter they can now claim as their own.

Bea Arellano, national president of Kadamay, however, said that they want to have it in "black and white" to make sure that their members will have legitimate claims to the housing units.

Some residents said that most of the occupied sites had unsanitary conditions due to lack of water supply and electricity.

Army brigade vows to respect bilateral truce

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Army brigade vows to respect bilateral truce  

Soldiers of the 701st Infantry Brigade (IB) based in Mati City, Davao Oriental will respect a bilateral ceasefire signed by both the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

In an interview Wednesday, Col. Reuben Basiao, 701st IB commander, said that if both parties will sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement in this round of peace talks, he will suspend the combat operations of his troops.

It will be suspended once we get the order from President Rodrigo Duterte, he added.

“It is clear from the statement of the President that what he expects from the fourth round of talks (is a signed) bilateral ceasefire (agreement), which we look forward to,” he said.

For now, Basiao said they maintain an offensive position to protect communities from harassment allegedly perpetrated by the New People's Army (NPA) and other armed groups within their area of jurisdiction.

“Some people asked why the soldiers still have combat operations even if the fourth round of peace talks is still ongoing? Well, we just follow the order of our national government and our President also stressed that there will be no unilateral ceasefire from the government side,” Basiao said.

He said the NPA released a statement to have a unilateral ceasefire before the end of March, but did not pursue it since the government did not respond.

PA now evolving through 'soldier-center, knowledge-based system'

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): PA now evolving through 'soldier-center, knowledge-based system'

As the Philippine Army (PA) evolves into a more modern military force, efforts are now underway to ensure that this process is done in a "soldier-center, knowledge-based system" manner.

This was disclosed by Army commander Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda as the PA celebrated its 120th founding anniversary Tuesday.

This is done with the goal of enhancing the capabilites of all PA troops as well as standardizing the Army's ability to manage information, he added.

"We expect these measures to help fulfill the mission of the PA to develop, organize, train, equip, support and sustain ground forces in support of the AFP mission, backed up by a large reserve (force)," Miranda stressed.

He is also pleased to report that the PA has greatly improved its warfighting capability with the acquisition of more firepower, better communications and force protection assets while ensuring that all newly-acquired equipment are compliant with existing statutory and regulatory requirements.

The PA was founded on March 22, 1897 through the Tejeros convention. The Army currently has 85,000 strong men and women dedicated to serve the people and secure the land.

Its anniversary was moved to April 4 to accommodate the availability of all stakeholders which includes President Rodrigo Duterte and other ranking defense and military officials.

PA to comply with President Duterte's call to let go of Bulacan housing units

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): PA to comply with President Duterte's call to let go of Bulacan housing units

The Philippine Army (PA) will adhere to President Rodrigo Duterte's appeal calling for soldiers to give up their housing units in Bulacan which were forcibly occupied by members of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) since last month.

"We will adhere to the President's appeal. We will talk to our troops and explain to them the position of our President," Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao said Tuesday afternoon.

"We are also happy and excited to hear his plans to give our troops better housing facilities," he added.

The Chief Executive earlier said he decided to allow the members of the urban poor group to remain the Bulacan housing facility to avoid possible bloodshed between the militants and security forces who will be deployed to evict them.

“I am asking you kung maaari lang. Do not be offended. Take it with an open mind. Ako na mismo, inyong Presidente, nakikiusap sa inyo. Let us not wage a fight against our own people," President Duterte stressed.

The President added that he had already asked the National Housing Authority to look for a suitable land to build bigger and more comfortable housing units for the soldiers and policemen.

In the meantime, the President urged Kadamay not to forcefully dislodge the soldiers and policemen who are already in the occupied projects or he would be forced to evict the militant urban poor workers instead.

U.S. Ambassador leads inauguration of new facilities in Leyte

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): U.S. Ambassador leads inauguration of new facilities in Leyte

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim made his first trip to the province of Leyte to inaugurate classrooms and a livelihood training center constructed by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines’ United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Ambassador Kim was joined by Palo Municipal Mayor Remedios “Matin” Petilla during the formal inauguration of nine new classrooms for Anahaway Elementary and Anahaway National High Schools in the municipality of Palo, Leyte.

The classrooms are designed to withstand high-velocity winds of up to 360 kilometers per hour and a magnitude 8.5 earthquake on the Richter scale.

“These classrooms are among the many examples of the United States’ solidarity and friendship with the Philippines. We are your strong ally and dedicated partner,” said Ambassador Kim.

The Ambassador then made his way to Tacloban City to turn over the Tacloban City Training Center to the local government, represented by Mayor Cristina Romualdez.

The center, which is expected to serve over 6,000 farmers, fisher folk, and entrepreneurs operating in the city and nearby areas, is part of the U.S. government’s broader initiative to help revive Leyte’s economy post-Haiyan.

“Our partnership has come a long way after three years. But what makes us truly proud is your courage and determination to rise above the adversity. Your stories are an inspiration to all of us,” the Ambassador said.

The U.S. government has spent more than PHP7 billion to bolster post-Haiyan recovery. To date, USAID’s Rebuild project, implemented by Louis Berger Group Inc., has built 310 classrooms and 30 livelihood support facilities to rehabilitate communities in typhoon-affected areas.

USAID has also constructed 12 health facilities and provided sustainable livelihoods to over 1,000 sari-sari store owners, 1,400 local entrepreneurs, and 10,000 farmers and fisherfolk.

GRP, NDFP panels draft agreement on release of captured soldiers

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): GRP, NDFP panels draft agreement on release of captured soldiers

The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have started drafting an agreement that would pave the way for the release of military and police personnel captured by the New People's Army(NPA).

This was one of the four conditions President Rodrigo Duterte has set before the start of the 4th round of peace talks in The Netherlands.

The other conditions include the signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement; a stop to the alleged extortion activities of rebels; and the non-recognition of any territorial claim made by the communists.

Chief Peace negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said both parties are still discussing the terms that would be included in the draft agreement.

Bello said both panels agreed to make their own drafts and later consolidate it.

“Mayroon silang draft, mayroon kaming draft so 'yun ang pag-uusapan namin, pag-sasamahin namin 'yun,” Bello said in a radio interview.

The communist insurgents earlier expressed their willingness to release the captured military and police personnel from March 27 to April 6, among them a policeman from Bukidnon and three soldiers from Surigao Del Norte and Sultan Kudarat.

The release failed to push through due to continuous offensive operations of the military.

Both parties are still discussing the suspension of military operation.

NDF panel senior adviser Luis Jalandoni, meanwhile, assured that the fourth round of talks is already moving forward.

“Moving forward, agreement toward a more stable ceasefire,” Jalandoni stressed in a separate interview.

Both panels assured to discuss the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) before they end the fourth round of peace talks on Thursday.

The government and communist rebels also agreed to discuss a joint interim ceasefire agreement as they further discussed other terms.

“We welcome the openness of NDF to undertake a forging in this round of talks of an agreement on joint interim ceasefire that will accompany our peace negotiations throughout,” Bello pointed out.

The AFP on Tuesday said they will continue with its operations against the NPA until a ceasefire declaration is ordered by Duterte.

Duterte lifted the government unilateral ceasefire and terminated the peace talks in February following the brutal killing of a policemen by alleged NPA members in Bukidnon province.

The peace talks resumed after successful back channel talks between the GRP peace panel and several NDFP consultants in Utrecht.

Continue fulfilling mandate so peace can reign in PHL

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Continue fulfilling mandate so peace can reign in PHL

As the country prepares to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the "Araw ng Kagitingan" (also known as the Fall of Bataan) on April 9, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana urged all soldiers in the field to continue performing their duties so that peace will reign in the country.

In line with this, he also appealed to the soldiery to continue upholding human rights.

"Let us continue doing our jobs. We still have a lot to do so that peace will reign in our land. There are a lot of groups trying to create trouble out there -- the Abu Sayyaf, communist terrorists, and (illegal) drugs," Lorenzana said at the sidelights of the ceremonies honoring World War II veterans Wednesday.

And to eliminate these threats once and for all, the DND chief urged the military to cooperate with the police, judiciary and civilian authorities so that these groups can be defeated once and for all.

The Fall of Bataan in April 9, 1942 was the largest surrender in American and Filipino military history which until now is still being jointly commemorated by nations.

PNP distributes safety reminder leaflets to public on 'Oplan Sumvac 2017'

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): PNP distributes safety reminder leaflets to public on 'Oplan Sumvac 2017'

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is now distributing leaflets to the public for a safe observance of the Holy Week and summer vacation under the PNP's "Oplan Sumvac 2017 (Operation plan summer vacation)".

In a press conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City on Wednesday, PNP Police Community Relations Group (PCRG) Information Communication and Development Division headed by Supt. Elmer Cereno presented to members of media the leaflets on what the motorists should check using the acronym "BLOWBAGETS".

BLOWBAGETS refers to Battery, Light, Oil, Water, Brakes, Air, Gas, Engine, Tools and Self.

The PNP-PCRG also reminded the commuting public never to wear expensive jewelries when traveling.

For those who would be swimming in the beach, be accompanied with a person who has swimming skills.

To avoid being victimized by "Akyat-bahay" gang, Cereno said, vacationers should inform a trusted neighbor about their departure from home and when they will return.

The Holy Week for the whole Christiandom will start on Palm Sunday (April 9) and ends on Easter Sunday (April 16).

It is the time where people from all walks of life are expected to go to provinces or to beach resorts for vacation.

Military patrols off Batanes get warm response from leaders, fisherfolks alike

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Military patrols off Batanes get warm response from leaders, fisherfolks alike

The decision of the military to conduct a series of maritime and air patrols off the Batanes Island chains has greatly reduced the incidents of poaching, earning the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) accolades from local leaders and fishermen alike.

This was stated by AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo in a statement Wednesday.

“Governor Marilou Cayco of Batanes extended the gratitude of the fisherfolks of Batanes for the continuous maritime patrol being facilitated by the Philippine Air Force, Navy, and Marines in the northernmost islands and sea territory of the province,” he said.

Arevalo said the Batanes governor formalized her appreciation for the patrols in a letter to Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) head Lt. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo.

In the letter, Cayco disclosed that she was being flooded with positive feedbacks especially from the fishermen who are mostly benefiting from the maritime patrolling.

“The incessant problem of poaching in our waters took a respite after the patrol and according to our fisherfolks, they can now fish without being in persistent fear of encountering boats with foreign markings,” the Batanes governor added.

"Our scarce resource and means in protecting our own territory was obliterated by the AFP’s genuine concern to our people by keeping our people safe and free from threats of foreign poachers,” she pointed out.

Last March 19, the Philippine Navy’s BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) sailed to Mavulis Island, Itbayat, Batanes to conduct a site survey at the northernmost island of the country.

The ship also conducted a series of patrols off Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte, Dalupiri, Calayan and Casambalangan, Sta. Ana Cagayan.

Since then, frequent maritime patrolling were facilitated by the military in the area, deterring would-be poachers.

Arevalo said the AFP through NOLCOM started its maritime awareness activities in Mavulis Island in April 2016.

AFP sees no problem in President Duterte decision to give Bulacan houses to KADAMAY

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): AFP sees no problem in President Duterte decision to give Bulacan houses to KADAMAY

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) sees no problem with the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to give up housing units in Pandi, Bulacan, meant for soldiers, to members of the militant group KADAMAY who were illegally occupying these houses since March.

"The AFP sees no problem with the President's decision as the transfer was meant to curb any possible outbreak of violence. New units will be provided to affected awardees," said AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla on Wednesday.

Around 10,000 troops have signified to acquire units in the various National Housing Authority (NHA) project nationwide.

The housing project named the Pandi-Bulacan Villa Lois, which taken over by KADAMAY members, has around 675 units allocated to members of the military and police.

However, soldiers who managed to see some of the units are requesting for bigger houses as the ones being given away are too small for them, Padilla pointed out.

"Some of our soldiers have made a request (to concerned government agency) that they be given two units, instead of one, as the houses are too small, and they have the means to pay for them," the AFP spokesperson stressed.

He also clarified that only the NHA housing project in Pandi, Bulacan will be given to KADAMAY members.

"The President is asking them (KADAMAY members) that this is the last time they will do this. The government is well aware of their plight and doing everything it can to address this but their decision to just occupy these homes are not in accordance with NHA regulations as it is unfair for individuals who have complied with the regular process," Padilla pointed out.

Japan's Southwest Pivot: How Tokyo Can Expand Its Eyes and Ears in the Ocean

From the National Interest (Apr 3): Japan's Southwest Pivot: How Tokyo Can Expand Its Eyes and Ears in the Ocean

Beijing's activity in the South China Sea could prompt Japan to look for creative ways to expand its maritime capabilities.

USS George Washington leads the George Washington Carrier Strike Group and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships. Flickr/U.S. Navy

 Image: USS George Washington leads the George Washington Carrier Strike Group and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships. Flickr/U.S. Navy

Amid uncertainty over the U.S. pivot to Asia under the current Trump administration, other key players in the Indo-Pacific continue about their own equivalent policies of regional engagement. India’s “Act East” policy of engaging with countries east of the Malacca Strait, especially Southeast Asian countries, continues apace. Meanwhile, Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been going about with its southwest pivot. Earlier, there had been reports about Tokyo conceiving the Vientiane Vision—a grand blueprint that outlines the scope and extent to which Japan would engage with Southeast Asian countries in the defense and security realm.

Japanese defense officials have said that the Vientiane Vision remains a preliminary work in progress; discussions are still ongoing with their Southeast Asian counterparts to “concretize” projects of interest. Without a doubt, maritime security capacity-building assistance features high on the agenda. Abe’s southwest pivot to South and Southeast Asia countries thus carries a distinctly maritime flavor. The 2015 iteration of Tokyo’s Official Development Assistance plan also highlighted the need to assist in building maritime safety capacities of these envisaged partner states.

To be certain, China’s more muscular forays in the Indo-Pacific—growing assertiveness in the East and South China Seas, as well as expanding footprints in the Indian Ocean—constitute one of the key motivations for this southwest pivot. Unlike his predecessors, Abe has been keen to backup his words with monetary investments. He has been pushing for practical initiatives designed to build maritime safety and security capacities of those countries in need. And more than a mere coincidence, some of these recipient governments do have their own contention with Beijing; recently, Tokyo has delivered used and new-build patrol vessels to the Philippines and Vietnam—Beijing’s primary South China Sea rivals.

Beyond surface-patrol assets, Japan has lately expanded the repertoire of capacity-building assistance to include aerial assets for promoting maritime domain awareness (MDA).

Broadening “Act West” Efforts: The Philippine Example
The most recent example has been the lease of five Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) TC-90 turboprop-driven planes to the Philippines. In fact, the Japanese TC-90, which is a local derivative of the Beechcraft King Air (with a maritime patrol version currently in service with the Malaysians), is not specifically designed for MDA, but for training purposes. Unlike the P-3C Orion maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, the smaller TC-90 is handicapped by range, endurance and payload capacity. Nonetheless, it is still far superior to the antiquated Britten-Norman Islander aircraft the Filipinos had been deploying for MDA tasks. To compound the qualitative problems of the Islander airplanes, the Philippine Naval Air Group does not even have enough of the machines to cover its entire archipelago. At best, the operational readiness of the Islander airplanes has been dubious, notwithstanding the practice of cannibalizing parts from existing airframes to keep at least one flyable.
Therefore, the arrival of the TC-90s has been timely, and serves at least as an interim, stop-gap measure to arrest the atrophy faced by the Naval Air Group. Moreover, even though the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte has been on an upswing of relations with Beijing, there is clearly no room for complacency. While China comes showering Manila with generous investment pledges and financial grants, Beijing is reportedly up to something in the South China Sea. In middle of March this year, Philippine defense authorities highlighted China’s purported plans to construct facilities on the Scarborough Shoal, notwithstanding the modus vivendi struck by Manila and Beijing over the disputed feature last year.

And to top it off, the perceived Chinese encroachment into Philippine waters of national interest has gone further eastward—to the resource-rich Benham Rise east of the Philippine archipelago, on which Manila possesses sovereign rights as mandated by the United Nations. Following reported passages by Chinese survey vessels in the said area, and facing no small amount of domestic pressure to act decisively, the Duterte administration has ordered the Philippine Navy to conduct patrols to assert the country’s sovereign rights to Benham Rise.

The same day as the first pair of TC-90s arrived in the Philippines, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief-of-Staff General Eduardo Año remarked that the planes would be deployed to monitor the South China Sea and Benham Rise. At a cost of $28,000 per year, the lease certainly provides an attractive proposition to Manila. The TC-90s would extend the Philippines’ limited shore-based radar coverage, fronted first and foremost by its National Coast Watch System, further into areas of concern. While no panacea to its significant MDA shortfalls, the Japanese planes would at least give Manila more policy options to cope with foreign predation upon its maritime interests, be it in the Spratlys or Benham Rise.

Practical Benefits of Building Aerial MDA Capacity

Moreover, building aerial MDA capacity serves some practical benefits for both Japan and the recipients. Suffice it to say, most of the Southeast Asian countries continue to endure capacity shortfalls when it comes to surface assets for surveillance and enforcement purposes. Patrol vessels, especially newbuilds, could be costly to acquire in the requisite quantity. Moreover, hulls take time to construct; and more personnel for crewing requirements. MDA is obviously as critical as acquiring physical enforcement assets. Referring to Malaysia’s maritime security capacity building, Shahriman Lockman aptly observed that “equipment that contributes to maritime domain awareness ought to be the priority for all. You can't fight what you can't see.”

A way to plug MDA gaps would be to complement surface assets with suitable numbers of maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. Until recent years, that area was neglected when compared to more exotic capabilities, such as submarines, surface combatants and missiles that Southeast Asian navies have been enthusiastically snapping up so long they could afford them.

Operationally, aerial MDA would not only extend surface coverage, but it could more effectively monitor larger swathes of waters at any one time, since shipborne radars tend to also be limited by line of sight and the horizon. One could argue that operating a plane would be costlier than a patrol vessel. Also, the airframe would have only a few hours worth of flight endurance whereas a patrol vessel would be able to stay on station for days. But having aerial MDA offers the unrivaled advantage of quick response, especially in an emergency.

Consider what happened back in March 2014 when the Malaysian Airlines MH370 passenger jet went missing—maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft were the first responders and carried out the bulk of search-and-locate missions. Such planes are also useful in the immediate aftermath of a natural calamity; U.S. Navy P-3Cs conducted search-and-rescue missions following Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines back in November 2013, transmitting valuable data for the planning of follow-on disaster relief operations.

Turning back to the context of maritime disputes where sovereignty assertion and enforcement constitutes a daily mission for countries like the Philippines, aerial MDA provides vital information in support of surface operations. During the Sino-Philippine standoff in 2014 over the Second Thomas Shoal, the presence of American maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft reportedly helped the Filipino resupply mission get past the Chinese coastguard blockade and reach the Philippine Marine Corps squad garrisoned on board the grounded landing ship BRP Sierra Madre. Aerial MDA hence serves as a form of deterrent capability during such contingencies.

Japan’s Inherent Strengths and Limitations

With a sizeable fleet of aircraft that could be utilized for MDA, from low-capability airframes such as the TC-90 to high-capability counterparts such as the P-3C Orion, Japan has ample opportunities to broaden capacity-building assistances to Indo-Pacific partners in this area. For years, Tokyo has eyed exporting used P-3Cs to countries such as Vietnam and Sri Lanka—countries with outstanding MDA requirements yet without the financial ability to afford newbuild maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. Hanoi for example was reportedly first keen to acquire used U.S. Navy, and subsequently MSDF P-3s.

With the range of low- to high-capability airframes for MDA available at its disposal, Japan could tailor capacity-building assistances according to the recipient’s needs and capabilities. Back in 2015, Manila expressed interest in acquiring used P-3Cs from Japan. However, this was scaled down to TC-90s later the same year. There were several plausible reasons for that. First, absorbing such technologically complex aircraft as the P-3Cs would be challenging for the Filipinos who have never operated anything close to this plane’s level of sophistication. Second, according to one Japanese defense official, the MSDF still must cope with its own aerial MDA needs, considering two factors.

One, the growing Chinese maritime activities in and around the East China Sea that necessitate higher operational tempo for Japan’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft fleet—in both the MSDF and Japan Coast Guard. Second, at a hefty price tag of $140.8 million per plane the indigenously developed Mitsubishi P-1 is extremely expensive to procure within a short time span in sufficient quantity to replace the P-3s. Consider that, as per what was stated in the latest Military Balance 2017 published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the MSDF currently possesses sixty-six P-3Cs and only nine P-1s. It would require quite some time to fully replace all P-3s. This only means that, for Tokyo to maintain its MDA operational tempo, the bulk of the ageing P-3 fleet must soldier on for some time before they could be freed up for transfer to foreign partners such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

The state-of-the-art ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious airplanes are expensive, too. At $113 million apiece, a concessionary price lowered from the original $133 million aimed at clinching the Indian deal, a new-built US-2 would be out of reach for many cash-starved Indo-Pacific militaries. Japan earlier offered the US-2 to Indonesia at a reported price of $100 million per unit, but recently Jakarta has evinced interest in the Russian Beriev Be-200 multipurpose amphibious aircraft, priced at approximately $30-40 million each; though, this may come at the expense of higher after-sales services costs, which Soviet-Russian arms are quite known for.

In short, selling newbuild airplanes like the P-1 or US-2 would be challenging for Japan since there would be tight competition out there. The more feasible pathway for Japan would be to hinge on transferring used—or surplus—airframes to Indo-Pacific partners. But at present, considering that the P-3C is a fully-armed maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft that can carry out kinetic, offensive tasks, such as anti-shipping strikes and anti-submarine prosecution, transferring the airplanes to foreign partners could be labeled by some as a form of re-militarism. 

 In April 2014, the old “Three Principles on Arms Exports” was replaced by the new “Three Principles for the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology”—a rule that approves the export of arms under certain conditions. But Tokyo remains hesitant; if lethal weapons sold or transferred by Japan eventually killed or maimed someone, hard-line “pacifists” might lobby for stricter regulations on its arms export policy. A recent episode revolving around the Japanese peacekeepers’ logs in South Sudan amplified the hard realities faced by the defense establishment in navigating such political minefields, especially concerning controversial security-related policies that touch on the Pacifist Constitution.

Looking Ahead

A plausible way forward would be if Tokyo scaled down the capabilities of the P-3Cs—essentially “defanging” the airframes by removing offensive armaments—and rendered them as harmless, purely-for-surveillance platforms. But that’s assuming that more P-3Cs are gradually decommissioned and made eligible for transfers to foreign partners. This option ought to alleviate external and domestic criticisms about Tokyo’s strategic intent and help in some way to overcome certain legal obstacles. It also could reduce the costs for recipients.

Of course, Japan could leverage on its advantage of transferring used equipment that had over the years in service been meticulously maintained and cared for by Japanese technicians. The TC-90s leased to the Philippines are still in above-average conditions and which means they have sufficient lifespan in them. Hence, while the P-1 enters service with the MSDF in larger numbers, Tokyo could correspondingly also transfer more maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft to Indo-Pacific partners in need of aerial MDA capacities.

To add value to this, Japan may also consider leveraging on its strong electronics industry to establish data and information-sharing facilities amongst friendly regional partners, either on its own efforts via the Vientiane Vision or in concert with other major players, such as India and the United States. These ground-based facilities could not only promote information sharing, but also strive towards a common MDA picture amongst governments who come on board such an endeavor. Compared to the mere sale or transfer of planes, the envisaged outcome—a more integrated network of MDA information-sharing nodes strategically located in allies and friendly partners throughout the Indo-Pacific—could be more beneficial for Japan and good order in the regional maritime commons.

[Satoru Nagao is a research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation and a lecturer in security and national strategy at Gakushuin University. Koh Swee Lean Collin is a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies based in Singapore.]

Duterte pins second highest award for combat to 2 junior officers

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 5): Duterte pins second highest award for combat to 2 junior officers
[Video report]
Two junior officers received the Distinguished Conduct Star, the military’s second highest award for combat, for their achievements against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Sulu.

President Rodrigo Duterte awarded Captains Ariel Robles and Dennis Arado with medals for their heroic actions at the 120th anniversary of the Army in Fort Bonifacio on Tuesday. There were 24 other recipients of various awards.

Robles was a company commander of the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion that raided a camp that made improvised explosive devices in Sitio Project, Barangay Tuburan Proper, Hadji Mohammad Ajul, Basilan, on May 14, 2015.
Arado of the 32nd Infantry Battalion led his company against 30 Abu Sayyaf members in Sitio Kan-udang, Barangay Tagbili, Patikul, Sulu, on Feb. 5, 2015.

Offensive against Abu Sayyaf continue during Holy Week

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Apr 4): Offensive against Abu Sayyaf continue during Holy Week

A WESTERN Mindanao Command (Wesmincom)officer said Tuesday, April 4, that military operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu will continue during the observance of the Holy Week.
Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, Wesmincom information officer, said the troops will continue to pursue the ASG since they have a deadline to meet to neutralize the bandit group. President Rodrigo Duterte has given the Westmincom six months to neutralize the ASG. The deadline will lapse on June 30, this year.
The focused military operations aimed to rescue the hostages from the hands of the Abu Sayyaf bandits in the province of Sulu.
There are 28 hostages in the hands of the ASG consisting of 12 Vietnamese, nine Filipinos, seven Indonesians, and one Dutch.
 The latest skirmish between the government troops and ASG occurred on Sunday, April 2, that resulted to the death of a bandit and 32 soldiers injured.
The troops also recovered two high-powered firearms the Abu Sayyaf bandits abandoned as they flee from the clash site. Colonel Cirilito Sobejana, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said the operation of his command is being sustained and non-stop.

Trillanes warns on communist infiltration

From the Journal Online (Apr 4): Trillanes warns on communist infiltration

SENATOR Antonio Trillanes IV has warned that some communist rebels might use the housing projects in Pandi, Bulacan, occupied by the militant Kadamay group, as their “safe haven” amid a report that insurgents are already “employed” in some government agencies.
Trillanes was replying to a question whether New People’s Army (NPA) rebels had already “infiltrated” the idle government housing project in Pandi.

“Definitely, ‘yan ‘yung kanilang mass base. So, andyan na (sila). Nakita mo hindi ni-re-resolve?”

Pa-sweldo ng gobyerno na ‘yung mga NPA. P’wede na ‘yan maging safe haven ng mga komunista, ng kanilang armed regulars. So, ang hirap May security implications din ‘yan,” said Trillanes.

He lamented that the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP) is taking advantage of the Duterte administration, especially now that the government has resumed peace talks with them.

Trillanes confirmed that his office had received intelligence report about some communist rebels working as government employees.

Asked in which agencies they were employed, he said: “Nandidiyan ginagamit nila ‘yung DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) at itong DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform).”

“Tapos ‘yung mga hawak nila, sa DoLE (Department of Labor and Employment) meron din sila, sa NAPC (National Anti-Poverty Commission). So, they are spread throughout the bureaucracy at kinukuha nila yung mga cadre nila on the ground,” he said.

The “social activists” in the Duterte Cabinet include Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, and NAPC lead convenor Liza Masa.

Revolutionary tax derails truce between govt, Reds

From ABS-CBN (Apr 5): Revolutionary tax derails truce between govt, Reds

Members of the rebel New People's Army stand in formation during the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Communist Party of the Philippines inside a remote camp in Davao, December 26, 2008. AFP

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands - The much anticipated signing of a supposed joint ceasefire agreement between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) did not materialize Tuesday night.
ABS-CBN sources said the two parties failed to hammer out a truce due to disagreements on the rebels' demand for revolutionary tax.

The elimination of revolutionary tax was among the conditions set by President Rodrigo Duterte for the peace negotiations. The President had also demanded the release of all political prisoners and the non-recognition of any territorial claim made by the communists.

The joint ceasefire deal may be signed Thursday after further inputs have been made by state and NDF negotiators, sources said.

In the meantime, NDF panel chair Fidel Agcaoili is set to call a news conference Wednesday afternoon about the release of 4 political prisoners, 3 soldiers and a police officer in Mindanao.

Joining Agcaoili in the presser is Bishop Felixberto Calang of Iglesia Filipina Independiente, who helped facilitate the release of the prisoners.

The conflict between the government and communists has raged since 1968.

NPA eyed in burning of trailer truck in Makilala

From MindaNews (Apr 4): NPA eyed in burning of trailer truck in Makilala

A trailer truck loaded with bananas was “intentionally burned” by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) along the national highway here Monday night.

Police reports reaching Mayor Rudy Caoagdan said unidentified armed men believed to be members of the NPA “intentionally burned” a trailer truck of the Cowboy Trucking of La Frutera, Inc. at around 7:45 p.m. Monday along Sitio Flortam, Barangay Batasan.

The burning came barely four hours after the fourth round of formal peace talks between government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) opened in The Netherlands.

“I feel bad and disappointed about these incidents knowing that our national leadership had opened the doors for peace in our country. Talks about building peace have just been reopened. I hope we could give this effort a chance for the sake of our children. I am sure all of us want peace and hopefully our generation will be able to experience it,” Mayor Caoagdan told MindaNews.

The truck was bound for Davao City from the La Frutera plantation in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao.

A trailer truck carrying bananas was burned at around 7:45 p.m. Monday, 03 April 2017, in Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato. Police said the truck was “intentionally burned” burned by suspected members of the New People’s Army. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

Toto Omar, the driver of the truck, told MindaNews he was flagged down by around 10 men carrying short and long firearms on both sides of the highway.

Omar said he and his son, the truck helper, were ordered to disembark and as soon as they did, the armed men set the truck on fire and fled.

“Kalit ra kaayo” (it was so sudden), he said.

Omar narrated there were three trucks on convoy from the plantation in Datu Paglas and he was in the middle. The first truck had passed while the last truck was spared because the driver was still finishing dinner nearby.

He said they were delivering the bananas to Unifrutti in Davao City which is exporting the bananas to the Middle East, Japan and South Korea.

Ramon Macaraeg, supervisor at Cowboy Trucking, told MindaNews they estimate at least P7 million losses for the truck, the refrigerated container van filled with nearly 1,200 boxes of bananas.

The trailer truck that was set on fire Monday night, 03 April 2017 in Barangay Batasan, Makilala, North Cotabato carried nearly 1,200 boxes of bananas, MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

He said it was the first time in the 20-year history of La Frutera that a company truck was burned.

Monday night’s truck burning was the second vehicle burning in Makilala in less than a month.

On March 13, a newly-acquired passenger bus of the Yellow Bus Lines was burned by suspected NPA guerrillas at Purok 6 in Barangay Taluntalunan at around 8:30 a.m. after asking its passengers and drivers to disembark.

The bus was on its second day of plying the Marbel-Tacurong-Davao route.

Suspected members of the New Peoples Army (NPA) torched a bus of the Yellow Bus Line (YBL) in Purok 6, Barangay Taluntalunan, Makilala, North at around 8:30 a.m. 13 March 2017. The bus was bound fro Davao City from Koronadal City via Tacurong. MINDANEWS PHOTO

Its burning came a day after Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza announced from Utrecht, The Netherlands that the GRP and NDP had agreed to put the peace process back on track after month-long skirmishes and that they would each restore the unilateral ceasefire they lifted in February, before the fourth round of formal peace talks.

Both sides did not declare a unilateral ceasefire. But the fourth round of formal talks opened at 10 a.m. on April 3 (4 p.m. in the Philippines) at the Radisson Blu Palace Hotel in Noordwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands to tackle the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms and discuss the forging of a bilateral ceasefire.

Sara Duterte suspends localized peace talks with NPA amid GPH-NDF negotiations

From GMA News  (Apr 5): Sara Duterte suspends localized peace talks with NPA amid GPH-NDF negotiations

Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte on Wednesday announced that the local government would suspend its peace talks with the New People’s Army (NPA) while the national government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) resume the fourth round of the negotiations in The Netherlands.

“Let me underscore that my peace offer is aligned with the national government's peace agenda vis-à-vis the 4th round of talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Philippines peace panel in the Netherlands where a bilateral ceasefire is being passionately pursued,” she said in a statement.

“In view of this recent development, I would like to put on hold, in the meantime, our agreement to conduct localized peace talks here in Davao City,” she added.

“Instead, let us wait and see how the efforts of the national government to end the insurgency problem will unfold.”

When President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled the peace talks with the communist rebels in February, Sara Duterte, his daughter, invited the NPA to talk peace with the local government of Davao City to avoid clashes.

Sara, in her statement on Wednesday, expressed her support for the GPH-NDF peace talks pursued by her father’s administration.

“The Local Government of Davao is also supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte's demand for the declaration of a ceasefire as a primary condition to the peace process,” she said.

However, she said they “share the position that the NPA must end its taxation or extortion activities, must release all captured soldiers/cops, and must cease from claiming so-called revolutionary territories.”

Sara also thanked the NPA for being cooperative when she offered to engage them in local peace talks.

“I would like to extend my gratitude to the New People's Army for promptly responding to my peace offer. At the same time, I would like to apologize to all the stakeholders, especially the people of Davao, for the delay in – what I believe is – our collective pursuit of peace because of my pregnancy,” Sara Duterte said.

“The City Government of Davao remains aggressive in this worthwhile pursuit of a lasting peace, knowing very well that only after we are able to claim peace that we can achieve justice, transform our communities, and empower and liberate our people,” she added.

Government, Reds agree on joint interim ceasefire

From the Philippine Star (Apr 5): Government, Reds agree on joint interim ceasefire 

In the fourth round of talks held in the Netherlands, the government peace panel and the NDF represented by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison (left) agreed on a joint interim ceasefire as they discuss the conditions that will be included in the bilateral ceasefire agreement. Berit Roald / NTB scanpix via AP, File

MANILA, Philippines - The government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) yesterday agreed on a joint interim ceasefire.

In the fourth round of talks held in the Netherlands, the government peace panel led by its chairman Silvestre Bello III and the NDF represented by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison agreed on a joint interim ceasefire as they discuss the conditions that will be included in the bilateral ceasefire agreement.

“We welcome the openness of NDF to undertake a forging of this round of talks of an agreement on joint interim ceasefire that will accompany our peace negotiations throughout,” Bello said.

Under the bilateral ceasefire agreement, the government and the NDF are expected to discuss the revolutionary tax collection of the CPP’s New People’s Army, hostile acts, strength of military forces and the NPA, and the release of political prisoners.

NDF peace panel chairman Fidel Agcaoili said the ceasefire agreement should not be pursued as an end in itself because “ceasefires, whether unilateral or bilateral or joint, are just a means to an end.”

Meanwhile, presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza said that any agreements reached by the two panels will be reflected on the ground.

“It will move us forward. It’s difficult when we sign an agreement and no one is following it,” Dureza said.