Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Gina wants to meet with Ka Frank

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 26): Gina wants to meet with Ka Frank

Former Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Satur Ocampo, a consultant of the CPP/NDF peace panel, was requested by DENR Secretary Gina Lopez if he can facilitate a meeting with Ka Frank Fernandez, leader of the CPP/NPA in Negros Island.

Ocampo accompanied Lopez yesterday in Basay and in Sipalay, Negros Occidental, to verify and validate reports reaching her office about the potability of water in Basay and the alleged erosion of a dumpsite in Sipalay.

Lopez reiterated pronouncements that she will work with the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines because at the end of the day, the NPA would only want a better life.

She said she believes that if social injustice on the ground is addressed, they will not be fighting each other.

Ocampo told reporters that members of the Commission on Appointments should forget about their personal and economic interests and consider the welfare of the country.

He said Lopez has the background and experience in addressing poverty, through care of the environment, especially on the impact of mining.

Ocampo claimed the NPAs “have been guardians of our natural resources but the intrusion of mining has driven them out from their respective areas”.

Lopez said when the environment is destroyed, the poor suffers the most.

In case of non-confirmation, Lopez said she has no choice if they would want to run government with their selfish business interests.


DILG exec lauds relationship of PNP, Muslim community in Negros Oriental

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 26): DILG exec lauds relationship of PNP, Muslim community in Negros Oriental

Assistant Secretary Hamid Ladjakahal of the Department of Interior and Local Government has lauded the relationship of the Muslim community and the Philippine National Police in Negros Oriental, saying it could be a model for others to follow.

Acting PNP provincial director, Senior Supt. Henry Biñas, said Monday that Ladjakahal had visited the province over the weekend and had met with the Muslim community leaders at the Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office at Camp Fernandez in nearby Sibulan town.

Biñas said around 20 Muslim leaders, including Imams and Ustads, talked to ASEC Ladjakahal on various concerns, most especially on the terror threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Visayas.

The local Muslim community has been cooperating with the government's local security forces in recent weeks following intelligence reports of Abu Sayyaf coming to the Visayas to carry out attacks at undisclosed places.

When the Inabanga, Bohol clashes between government troops and the Abu Sayyaf bandits erupted two weeks ago, the Muslim community leaders met with the PNP and the Philippine Army to show support and cooperation.

The DILG official was impressed with how the Muslim community cooperates here with the PNP, the military, civilian officials and inter-faith groups that he said he would make it a “model” to be adopted by other areas, Biñas said.

Biñas said the local Muslim community reiterated its commitment to help government authorities in their fight against terrorism.

They said Negros Oriental is their “second home” and they feel a sense of belongingness here because there is “no discrimination” against them and are also “given importance”, Biñas added.

Biñas said they stressed that the teaching of Islam is for peace and not violence and extremism, as what the Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim extremist groups are advocating.

Biñas announced that there will be a regular monthly meeting of the PNP and the Muslim leaders here to further strengthen ties and cooperation.

Meanwhile, the PNP and the military have not monitored any presence of Balik Islam members, so far, Biñas said.

Balik Islam is a “missionary group” which the government security forces say is where Abu Sayyaf recruits its members.

During a recent security briefing with Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commander of the Central Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, director of the PNP Regional Office 7, they told Governor Roel Degamo to keep a close eye on “suspicious Muslim personalities”, especially those from the Balik Islam movement.

That is why it is important to have good relations with the local Muslim community as they speak the language and would be able to immediately detect the arrival of suspicious individuals here, Binas said.


Police seize bomb materials, terror docs from Nobleza homes

From Rappler (Apr 25): Police seize bomb materials, terror docs from Nobleza homes

Following the police officer's arrest in Bohol, authorities conduct follow-up raids on properties linked to Superintendent Maria Cristina Nobleza

Raids on two properties linked to a police officer accused of coddling Abu Sayyaf members yielded various firearms, bomb-making components, and “subversive documents pertaining [to] terrorist activities,” according to police reports.

The raids were made a day after Superintendent Maria Cristina Nobleza, deputy chief of the Davao Region Crime Laboratory, was arrested in Clarin, Bohol. She and her companions had attempted to avoid a police checkpoint in the area, where there were ongoing military operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

Renierlo Dongon, an alleged bomb maker and Abu Sayyaf member who is romantically linked to Nobleza, was also arrested.

On Monday, April 24, personnel from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) in Northern Mindanao enforced a search and seizure warrant against Nobleza in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. Government agents seized the following from Nobleza's Malaybalay house.
  • 1 M16 riffle
  • 7 M16 magazines
  • 1 caliber .45 pistol with 1 magazine loaded and 7 cartridges
  • 218 cartridges for M16 riffle
  • 1 M16 bandolier
  • 1 yellow timer suspected to be used for an improvised explosive devise
  • Bomb component for an improvised explosive device
  • Soldering iron
  • 66 non-electric blasting caps
  • 1 pc 9-volt battery
  • 1 piece tester
  • Assorted subversive documents pertaining terrorist activities
Nobleza faces charges following the discovery of firearms and explosives during the raid.
The police report said that a certain Al Mohammar Bayani, 22, from Lanao del Norte, and two minors were present during the raid. The minors were turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Also on Monday, Bohol police raided Nobleza's rented apartment in the province and seized the following:
  • An item believed to be a C4 explosive
  • Detonating cord
  • Blasting cap
  • Blasting cap kit
  • Personal belongings
Nobleza and Dongon were brought to Camp Crame Tuesday morning, April 25.

The police officer also faces charges of illegal possession of firearms, obstruction of justice, and resistance and disobedience to agent of person in authority.


2 remaining Abu Sayyaf members in Bohol 'fighting for survival'

From Rappler (Apr 25): 2 remaining Abu Sayyaf members in Bohol 'fighting for survival'

Government forces have 'encircled' an area where they believe the two Abu Sayyaf members are hiding

CRUSHING ASG. AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla answers questions from the media during a Palace briefing on April 25, 2017. RTVM screenshot

CRUSHING ASG. AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla answers questions from the media during a Palace briefing on April 25, 2017. RTVM screenshot

The Philippine military on Tuesday, April 25, said that the two remaining Abu Sayyaf members in Bohol are "fighting for their survival" and may be caught soon by government forces.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla gave the update in a Palace news briefing on Tuesday, as he gave his assurance to the people of Bohol and travelers planning to visit the province that there is no serious threat there.

"The assessment of the Central Command...is that these two are fighting for their survival so they don't pose any serious threat anymore," Padilla said nearly two weeks after government forces foiled an attempt of the Abu Sayyaf to carry out abductions in Bohol, a major Philippine tourist destination. (READ: Bad or good intel: 5 questions on Abu Sayyaf presence in Bohol)

The military believes that the other ASG member who was at large had died of "exposure to the elements and of hunger," leaving only two bandits on the run.

These two are supposedly in an area in Bohol that has been "encircled" by security forces. It's only a matter of time before they are caught, said Padilla.

"The two who are still being hunted [are] known to be in an area where we are already closely guarding and have encircled. Because of their long exposure to the elements, what they are doing now is to fight for their survival," he said.

Authorities are hunting down all those involved in the planned attack on Bohol of the Abu Sayyaf, a Jolo- bandit group whose leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Philippine National Police recently arrested a female police officer suspected of helping ASG members behind the foiled Bohol attack.

The AFP also said 4 of the ASG members behind the plan were killed in a military operation on April 22.

President Rodrigo Duterte offered a P1-million bounty for the apprehension, "dead or alive", of each Abu Sayyaf member behind the foiled attack.


Lack of coordination Dureza to talk with Bato on MILF issue

From the Mindanao Times (Apr 19): Lack of coordination Dureza to talk with Bato on MILF issue

SEC. JESUS Dureza, presidential adviser for peace process, has expressed concern on the reported excessive use of force by the Philippine National Police (PNP) against leaders of the military wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

In an interview at the SMX Convention Center in Lanang, Dureza frowned at the apparent lack of coordination between government and forces of the MILF in the Bangsamoro territories.

“There appears to be a lack of coordination,” Dureza said, adding he would speak with PNP Director Ronald dela Rosa soon to clarify the operational procedures.

“We don’t want another Mamasapano,” he added.

Earlier this week, BIAF chief of staff Sammy Al-Mansour cried foul on the alleged operations conducted by the PNP.

“The leadership of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the military wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), views with grave concern and alarm the recent spate of operations conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP) against legitimate officers and members of the BIAF in various places in the Bangsamoro Homeland,” Al-Mansour said.

The BIAF accused the PNP of ignoring protocols, with operatives even wearing bonnets “as if they were hooded gangsters,” he said.

“Obviously, standard operating procedures, such as the presentation of arrest warrants, if there be any, were grossly disregarded by raiding PNP elements,”

Al Mansour said. “Against this backdrop, we cannot help but ask if another concerted plan is in the offing to sabotage the peace process?”

Both sides agreed that the police should have followed protocols that have been established over 17 years to prevent armed encounters.

Among these are the creation of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCHs) and Ad Hoc Joint Action Groups (AHJAGs).

“As in the present alarming situation, the raids of the PNP against BIAF members, if left unabated, may escalate tension and spark violent armed encounters,” the BIAF statement said.

Anti-terror unit revived in Cotabato City

From MindaNews (Apr 25): Anti-terror unit revived in Cotabato City

Military, police and local officials today announced the revival of Task Force Kutawao that will secure the city and its environs against terrorism, kidnapping and proliferation of illegal drugs.

Major Gen. Arnel dela Vega, 6th Infantry Division commander, named Colonel Jose Gongona as Task Force Kutawato head.

The task force will be augmented by Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit in the coming days.

“This is in line with the AFP’s development support and security plan as suggested by President Duterte,” dela Vega said of the task force’s creation.

In the 1990s, Task Force Kutawato was first established to contain the rash of kidnapping for ransom cases by organized crime groups preying on Filipino-Chinese traders.

“This is timely because of the government’s no non-sense campaign against terrorism and extremism,” Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi who first pushed for the idea of reviving the special task force.

Cotabato City has been subjected to dozens of terror attacks, including the mayor in 2014.

She stressed that the city has a fast growing economy and accompanying it was rising criminality and peace and order issues that would affect the business climate if left unattended.

From a mere 5- to 7-percent, annual economic growth had increased to 20 percent per year since 2003.

Since last year, crime rate was down due to massive campaign by the police and military but Guiani-Sayadi said terror and kidnapping for ransom threats have remained.

“We cannot discount criminal activities will thrive due to growing population and economic activities,” she said.

“We need to increase and upgrade our security and to ensure we are ahead from lawless elements,” she added.

The task force revival has the support of religious leaders, village officials and the business community.

As a start-up mobility requirement, the city government turned over six motorbikes to the task force for its patrolling activities in the city’s 37 villages.


Bomb materials found in house of police official linked to Abu

From MindaNews (Apr 25): Bomb materials found in house of police official linked to Abu

Authorities reportedly found bomb materials and arrested three persons during a raid on the house of police Supt. Maria Cristina Nobleza in Malaybalay City Monday night.

Nobleza, deputy chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Davao Region Crime Laboratory, was implicated in an attack staged by the Abu Sayyaf in Bohol after she was arrested with an alleged bomber identified as Reener Lou Dongon.

Nobleza, Dongon and two others who were on a green Nissan pickup, tried to evade a police checkpoint in Clarin town, Bohol when they were arrested last Saturday.

Dongon, who is said to belong to the shadowy Khilafa Islamiyah Movement, is facing double murder and frustrated murder cases for the October 2012 bombing at the Maxandrea Hotel in Cagayan de Oro that left two people dead including a policeman and two others injured.

He also faces another set of murder and frustrated murder cases for the July 26, 2013 bombing at a restobar in Limketkai Mall in Cagayan de Oro that left 10 persons dead and 46 others injured.

PNP Northern Mindanao spokesperson Supt. Lemuel Gonda said that acting on a search warrant, police and army operatives raided the house of Nobleza at Pine Hills Executive Homes in Purok 5, Barangay Casisang, Malaybalay City Monday night.

Gonda said the raiding team found 66 non-electric blasting caps, a timer for explosive device, and several bomb making components.

He said the raiders also seized an M16 rifle, a caliber 45 pistol and ammunition.

He said one person and two minors including the younger brother of Dongon were arrested.

He identified those arrested as Al Moammar Bayani, 22, a resident of Barangay San Juan, Baroy, Lanao del Norte.

Gonda did not identify the minors who were also from Lanao del Norte.

He said the police got a warrant to search the house of Nobleza after receiving an order from top PNP officials who were conducting a tactical interrogation on the police officer and Dongon.

“It was a matter of searching the official records of Nobleza because she was an active police officer. That is how we know of her residence,” he said.

He said Dongon’s picture was in the PNP wanted list of terrorists. He said this enabled the police in Bohol to identify him.

Meanwhile, the Police Regional Office (PRO) 11 has referred matters pertaining to Nobleza to the PNP Crime Laboratory in Camp Crame.

PRO 11 spokesperson Chief Insp. Andrea Dela Cerna said Nobleza’s mother unit has the administrative control and supervision over her.

“Although her place of work as crime lab officer is in Davao, PRO 11 does not have administrative control over her person, only operational supervision on matters of investigation,” she explained.

In a report aired on state-run PTV, PNP chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa said President Rodrigo R. Duterte wants Nobleza sued for illegal possession of firearms, harboring of criminals, and conspiracy to commit terrorism.

Citing the PNP chief, the report said the ASG might just be using Nobleza, who is reportedly romantically linked to Dongon, to get information about the government but said she had no access to police intelligence.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Nobleza’s arrest underlines the need for vigilance in the campaign for peace in the country.

“The President is firm and decisive in the fight against terrorism. He has ordered government troops to carry out sustained, focused and intense operations to put an end to lawlessness and gruesome acts of violence,” he said.


Kampo ng Maute, pinostehan na ng military

From the Mindanao Examiner (Apr 25): Kampo ng Maute, pinostehan na ng military

Pormal ng inanunsyo ng militar ang pagkakabawi sa malaking bahagi ng bayan ng Piagapo sa lalawigan ng Lanao del Sur mula sa jihadist Maute group matapos ng ilang araw na sagupaan doon.

Nabawi rin ng mga tropa ang iba’t-ibang pampasabog, bala at mga armas, gayun rin ang mga bandila ng Islamic State na ginagamit ng Maute group. Sinabi ni Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista, commander ng 1st Infantry Division, na maraming mga miyembro ng Maute ang nasawi sa sagupaan, kabilang ang isang Indonesian militant.

Naglagay na rin ang mga sundalo ng bandila ng bansa sa naturang lugar bilang simbolo ng pagkakabawi sa kampo na ginamit ng Maute. Ilang dosenang mga fox holes at bunkers ang natagpuan sa lugar. May mga sundalo na rindoon upang matiyak na hindi muling magagamit ng Maute ang kampo.

Sa kabila nito, sinabi ni Bautista na patuloy pa rin ang kanilang operasyon upang matunton ang mga nakatakas na jihadists. Libo-libong katao naman ang hanggang ngayon ay nasa iba’t-ibang evacuation center sa Piagapo.

Pinatututukan na rin ni Gov. Mujiv Hataman ng Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, ang mga pangangailangan ng mga evacuees upang matulungan sila habang hindi pa nakakabalik sa kanilang mga lugar.


Armas, pampasabog nakuha sa bahay ng ‘Sayyaf’ parak

From the Mindanao Examiner (Apr 25): Armas, pampasabog nakuha sa bahay ng ‘Sayyaf’ parak

Nilusob ng pulisya ang bahay ng isang opisyal ng Philippine National Police sa Malaybalay City sa Bukidnon province matapos itong madakip kasama ang isang Abu Sayyaf sa bayan ng Clarin sa Bohol province.

Kinumpirma ng pulisya sa northern Mindanao ang naturang operasyon at sinabing covered ito ng search warrant at nabawi sa bahay ni Supt. Maria Christina Nobleza ang iba’t-ibang armas at pampasabog at mga kagamitan sa paggawa ng bomba.

Walang detalyeng ibinigay ang pulisya maliban lamang sa kumpirmasyon ng naturang operasyon sa Pine Hills Executive Homes sa Barangay Casisang. Galing umano sa Regional Trial Court-Branch 9 ng Malaybalay City ang search warrant.

Ayon naman sa ibang sources, isang lalaki at dalawang menor-de-edad na nasa bahay ni Nobleza ang inimbitahan sa kampo ng pulisya upang makunan ng pahayag ukol sa mga armas.

Nadakip kamakailan si Nobleza, na isang Balik-Islam, kasama si Reneer Lou Dungon, matapos nilang takas ang isang checkpoint habang tinatangkang iligtas ang mga Abu Sayyaf na pinaghahanap ng militar at pulisya sa Bohol.


U.S. Army Pacific presents ‘purple heart’ replica to family of WWII PH scout

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 25): U.S. Army Pacific presents ‘purple heart’ replica to family of WWII PH scout

Filipino private first class Adriano Alagon’s posthumously awarded ‘Purple Heart’ medal was lost in the aftermath of World War II, but on April 19, 2017, Gen. Robert B. Brown, commanding general of the United States (U.S.) Army Pacific, presented recently a replica of the medal to Alagon’s only surviving daughter, Elisea Alagon Jamoralin. The formal ceremony took place at the historic Fort Shafter headquarters in Honolulu, HI, a building used during World War II to plan for the liberation of the Philippines in 1944.

“Through the horrors and terror of this period, we can take what endures over the years: the freedom and sacrifices made for our two nations by soldiers like Pfc. Alagon,” said General Brown, before presenting the medal.

During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Alagon was a member of the 14th Engineer Battalion, Philippine Scouts, who gallantly served shoulder-to-shoulder with American forces. Enduring some of the fiercest battles of the defensive campaign, Alagon was captured on his birthday, made to endure the horrific march across Bataan, and subsequently killed by his captors after spending nearly two years in brutal conditions as a prisoner of war.

Jamoralin was only eight years old when she lost her father. Her daughter, Philippine Consul General in Honolulu Gina Jamoralin, researched her grandfather’s saga and contacted the U.S. Army about a replacement award. “Today’s event is the culmination of my search for answers in what might have been forgotten by succeeding generations. While we miss our grandfather, we are consoled by the fact he died for his country and we are deeply proud of him,” said Consul General Jamoralin on behalf of the family.

The family also brought a framed copy of an original letter signed by then President Harry Truman, saying: “He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die so that freedom might live, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives- and through it- he lives.”

“I’ve never heard it captured so well,” said Gen. Brown. “Freedom does live. Thanks to men and women like private Alagon. His sacrifice really humbles us here today.”

In May, soldiers of U.S. Army Pacific will participate in Exercise Balikatan, the annual Philippine-U.S. military bilateral training exercise that is a signature element of the Philippine-U.S. alliance focused on a variety of missions, including humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and counterterrorism.


Tabak official cites vital role of stakeholders in the campaign against ASG

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 26): Tabak official cites vital role of stakeholders in the campaign against ASG

Stakeholders play a vital role in the government’s ongoing intensified campaign against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu and Bohol.

In a press conference held at Camp Major Cesar Sang-an here, Colonel Cirilo Tomas P. Donato, assistant division commander of the 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division stressed the importance of cooperation of the locals in maintaining peace and security in the region.

Donato said the cooperation of the stakeholders in providing information about the presence of the ASGs in the villages is of utmost importance.

The ASG is a small Jihadist terror group based in Jolo and Basilan islands and known for beheadings, kidnappings, bombings and extortion in the south.

It can be recalled that President Rodrigo Duterte intensified his campaign against the militants after the group was blamed for a spate of abductions in the Philippine coast and bombings in Davao City which killed 14 people and injured 67 others.

Donato said stakeholders, law enforces, civilians and community partnerships have been viewed as critical to preventing terrorism and terror related acts performed by the ASG.

“To effectively protect the nation’s infrastructure from the bandits, we must work collaboratively,” Donato urged.

The military official is optimistic that the problem of insurgency and kidnapping in Mindanao will be solved with the active support and cooperation of the stakeholders.

“We need the active support and cooperation of all our stakeholders, the civilians and the community in our area to address the problem of insurgency in the region,” he added

“The focused military operations against the ASG will continue to rescue the remaining hostages,” Donato said adding that President Duterte ordered the AFP to finish the ASG within six months.

Meanwhile, the command lauded the joint troops of 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army and tactical operations units of the Philippine Air Force for the success of their 3-day combat operations which resulted to the killing of 36 members of the Maute group, seizure and occupation of the enemy’s encampment and recovery of IED materials in Piagapo, Lanao del Sur over the weekend.

BGen. Rolando Joselito D. Bautista said the success is the result of a nonstop collaboration and partnership with the military, LGUs and populace in the collective battle against terrorism, banditry and criminality.


Cordillera factions unite for peace

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 26): Cordillera factions unite for peace

Five major rebel factions and groups in Cordillera converged here on Monday to unify their ranks towards healing and reconciliation, as they strongly pushed for Cordillera autonomy as a step towards federalism.

Leaders and representatives of various Cordillera rebel factions and other groups namely the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA) and Cordillera Bodong Association (CPLA-CBA), Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Cordillera Broad Coalition (CBC), Cordillera Regional Consultative Commission (CRCC), and North Luzon Coalition for Good Governance (NLCGG), have jointly called on all Cordillerans to unite and rally behind efforts to establish the constitutionally mandated Autonomous Region of the Cordillera.

The different rebel groups, together with the civil society, local government units and national government agencies gathered together for the first time at the Forum on CAR Regional Autonomy dubbed as "Pioneer Cordillera Champions Coming Together" held at Mount Data Hotel in Bauko, Mountain Province on Monday, 24 April.

The forum was organized by the Cordillera Regional Development Council and NEDA-CAR in partnership with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process as a venue for continuing dialogue with the Cordillera groups and converge their interests and efforts for the attainment of a Cordillera autonomy.

Speaking before the Cordillera groups at the forum, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza called on all Cordillerans to unite first, saying there are diverse groups in Cordillera but there should only be one united effort by all towards the autonomy of the region.

"In the roadmap for peace and development in the Cordillera, you may have different routes but there should only be one destination. Let's now try and converge these different routes into one destination," Secretary Dureza said.

He also stressed it is high time for the Cordillera to entrench a regional autonomy that will truly recognize and uphold the rights to ancestral land and right to self-determination of the region but Cordillerans should work first towards achieving a cohesive Cordillera society.

To recall, the revolutionary movement in Cordillera had split into factions brought by the differences and historical injustices in the past.

"There's a process of reconciliation and you must find a way to take advantage of this opportunity of building back relationships. Understand first and learn to accept your differences," said Secretary Dureza.

He also reiterated the importance of addressing the historical injustices as key to achieving sustainable peace and development.

"There must definitely be historical injustices suffered by the Cordillerans and the main common ground is taking away natural resources at the expense of your people in the area. You have to address transitional justice and reconciliation," he added.

In response to OPAPP's call for peace and unification, leaders of the CPLA and other groups also expressed support for achieving one voice for Cordillera.

"We fully support this effort and I call upon all members of CPLA to unite as one. How can we expect civil society and other groups to support us if we ourselves are not united so let's all support this and move together as one," said Conrado Dieza of the CPLA.

Cordillera groups, together with the local chief executives and representatives of the six provinces of the Cordillera and the City of Baguio have forged support for the passage of House Bill 5343, "An act establishing the autonomous region of the Cordillera" which was filed recently in Congress.

Baguio City Mayor and RDC CAR chair Mauricio Domogan said that the new proposed bill reiterates the Cordillera people's united stand for genuine regional autonomy.

"We had been totally neglected by the national government for a long period of time and so it is time to support and pass the bill," said Mayor Domogan.

The forum also highlighted the importance of engaging people on the ground through peace table conversations. OPAPP strongly urged the RDC-CAR and Cordillera groups to continue people's dialogue and stakeholder engagement to further strengthen the move for Cordillera autonomy. (OPAPP)


Cops step up hunt for Leyte town plaza blast suspect

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): Cops step up hunt for Leyte town plaza blast suspect

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has intensified their search for the main suspect of the town plaza bombing in Hilongos, Leyte that injured 32 people late last year.

Chief Insp. Ma. Bella Rentuaya, PNP Eastern Visayas spokesperson, said on Tuesday that all police units in the region have been directed to hunt down the principal suspect, Jake Anthony Perez Macuto.

“Macuto is said to have resided in Concepcion village, Hilongos, Leyte before the bombing. He also resided before in Lanao del Norte and is said to be roaming freely in Maguindanao area,” Rentuaya said.

The police regional office here has closely coordinated with their counterparts in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to arrest the suspect.

Judge Suarez Abando, of the Hilongos, Leyte Court Branch 18, issued the warrant of arrest for Macuto on April 11, almost four months after the explosion that spoiled the town fiesta celebration on Dec. 28.

Macuto, 26, a Muslim convert, was reportedly involved in plotting the foiled bombing near the United States embassy on Nov. 28 and the failed Black Nazarene attack recently.

Macuto, together with two John Does, was charged before the court with multiple frustrated murder.

Macuto is said to be a recruit of the Maute group, a radical group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS.


Army revives Task Force Kutawato to help fight terrorism, drugs

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): Army revives Task Force Kutawato to help fight terrorism, drugs

To help fight terrorism, kidnapping and illegal drugs, the Army's 6th Infantry Division reactivated Tuesday Task Force Kutawato (TFK).

Major Gen. Arnel dela Vega, 6th Infantry Division commander, designated Colonel Jose Gongona as Task Force Kutawato commander.

The Army-led task force will be augmented by Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit.

“This is in line with the AFP’s development support and security plan as suggested by President (Rodrigo) Duterte,” dela Vega told reporters.

A similar task force was established here in the 1990s during the height of kidnapping for ransom cases by former Moro rebels turned bandits that victimized Filipino-Chinese traders.

Dela Vega said the creation of TFK will help the city police in securing the city, whose economy has been growing steadily the past five years.

Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guaini-Sayadi lauded the military for the revival of TFK, saying it will boost investors' confidence in the city.

"This is timely, we cannot discount terrorism and criminality to rise as the city's economy has been growing steadily," she added.

Sayadi said the city's security sector should be one step ahead of lawless elements.

Dela Vega said the main component of TFK is the Army's 5th Special Forces Battalion based in the city.

The business community and local officials down to barangay level have thrown its all out support to TFK.

Cotabato City, which has a population 300,000 as of the 2015 census, is within the province of Maguindanao where terror groups operate.


Police, Army units in S. Cotabato get new motorcycles

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): Police, Army units in S. Cotabato get new motorcycles

The provincial government of South Cotabato has released seven more service motorcycles to local police and Army units as it continues to help beef up their operational capabilities.

South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes said Tuesday the new motorcycles were part of the augmentation requested from the local government last year by the South Cotabato Provincial Police Office and the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion (IB).

She said the motorcycles, which were worth a total of PHP667,000, comprise six Honda XR150 and a Honda XRM125 units.

Four of the units were formally turned over on Monday to the 27IB, two to the Surallah municipal police station, and one to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG)-South Cotabato.

Fuentes said the brand new motorcycles were purchased through the local government’s peace and order funds.
She said the funding was approved by the provincial board or Sangguniang Panlalawigan based on an endorsement from the Provincial Peace and Order Council.

The motorcycles were included in the augmentation request endorsed by the council for the last quarter of 2016.

The governor said the provincial government is currently processing additional requests submitted by the concerned units for 2017.

“These are for different needs, mainly equipment and other items that will make their operations more efficient,” she told reporters.

Fuentes assured that the local government will continue to provide the necessary assistance to local law enforcement units, which she acknowledged to be in dire need of their support.

For instance, she said they found out that the CIDG provincial office had no “working” service vehicle prior to the release of the lone motorcycle.

“We’re currently working on including some of their needs in our next supplemental budget,” she said.

Last year, the provincial government released several motorcycle units and personal computers to local police and military units as part of the initiative.

The local government also provides fuel subsidies and incentives for successful operations, especially in the anti-illegal drug campaign.


NDF flag hoisted in Zambo public school

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): NDF flag hoisted in Zambo public school

The local police are conducting an investigation to determine who hoisted a communist flag in one of the government schools in this city.

Supt. Ariel Huesca, Police Station 11 chief, on Tuesday disclosed that the flag of the National Democratic Front (NDF) was placed at the gate of the Zamboanga City State Polytechnic College (ZCSPC).

Huesca said the NDF flag was discovered on Monday by Johnsen Daniel, ZCSPC security guard, while conducting a roving patrol at the school campus.

The NDF flag was placed at the gate of Lot 2, which is facing the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU).

Huesca said Daniel removed and turned over the NDF flag to their office since there was no authorization from the ZCPSC administration to post it at the school campus.

He said there was a forum on constitutional reforms, one of the agenda of the peace negotiations between the government and the communist rebels, conducted Monday afternoon at WMSU.


Army denies presence of Abu Sayyaf in Eastern Visayas

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): Army denies presence of Abu Sayyaf in Eastern Visayas

The Philippine Army here has dismissed reports of sightings of armed men believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Dolores, Eastern Samar and Sta. Fe, Leyte.

Major Gen. Raul Farnacio, commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division, confirmed Tuesday the presence of Muslims in Dolores and Sta. Fe towns.

However, they are not engaged in any terroristic activities in the area. "They are merely doing business," he stressed.

Farnacio said Muslims in the region promised to assist government troops in the identification of potential terrorists.

“We have been closely monitoring the developments in nearby Bohol province to preempt the possible entry of ASG members and other terror groups to Leyte and Samar provinces,” the Army official said.

Joint deployments have been done by the Army and police to ensure the security and safety of the public and tourists in the area, he said.

Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar, Philippine National Police Eastern Visayas regional director, reminded the public to be vigilant while in possible target areas like malls, car parks and tourist attractions.

“The public should stay calm despite the warning since the police is on top of the situation,” Beltejar said.

Beltejar advised those who received unverified reports not to spread the information, but instead share it to the local police for verification.


Westmincom dares Sulu officials to join fight vs. Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): Westmincom dares Sulu officials to join fight vs. Abu Sayyaf

Local government officials in the island province of Sulu have been challenged to join the fight against the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, made the challenge on Tuesday following the Abu Sayyaf's beheading of a Moro soldier, who has been working to uplift the living conditions of his tribe in the province of Sulu.

“They have to join the fight. It will be shameful if they will allow the Abu Sayyaf bandits to disrespect them as elected officials,” Galvez said.

The Abu Sayyaf bandits abducted and beheaded SSgt. Anni Siraji, a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) combatant who was integrated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines in line with the final peace agreement between the government and the MNLF.

Government troops recovered on Sunday the remains of Siraji, who was assigned with the Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion, in Barangay Taglibi, Patikul, Sulu.

Siraji was buried on Monday at a Muslim cemetery in this city.

He was described as an MNLF member who traded his rifle to become a peace maker and an agent of development to his fellow Tausugs in Sulu.

Galvez said the elected officials in Sulu should follow what their counterparts in Basilan province have done--join the fight against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Galvez said mayors and barangay officials in Basilan have joined the military's efforts to crush the Abu Sayyaf there.

He said these officials joined the fight since they "felt insulted as the Basilan-based ASG disrespected them as well as the law of the country."

He said this is the reason why the strength of the ASG is dwindling in Basilan province.

Isnilon Hapilon, the only remaining among the top five Basilan-based ASG leaders, has been reported to have fled to Lanao del Sur and joined the Maute terror group.

The other four Basilan-based top ASG leaders were killed in separate firefight with government troops. They included Khadafy Janjalani, Aldam Tilao alias Abu Sabaya, Hamsiraji Sali and Jainal Antel Sali alias Abu Sulaiman.


AFP officials in sensitive positions carefully vetted before appointment

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): AFP officials in sensitive positions carefully vetted before appointment

There are no ranking military officials collaborating with the enemy.

This was the assurance given by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año when asked on whether they are conducting surveillance on any of its ranking officials or members in wake of the scandal involving Senior Supt. Maria Cristina Nobleza who was arrested in the act of helping cornered Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits in Clarin town, Bohol last April 22.

Arrested with the lady police officer was her driver and alleged lover Reneirlou Dongon, a known ASG operative, who was earlier implicated in several bombing attacks but was freed due to a technicality.

They were nabbed while attempting to penetrate a police checkpoint in Clarin town.

"(In the AFP), all officials, before being given sensitive positions, are subjected to partial and full background checks (before they are given these positions)," Año added.

The AFP chief said that it is possible that some lapses may have occurred during Nobleza's promotion to the PNP Crime Laboratory.

An estimated three to four ASG brigands are still in the area. These are part of the 11-man team ASG sub-leader Muamar Askali alias "Abu Rami" who landed last April 10 in Inabanga town,Bohol to conduct kidnapping attacks against local and foreign tourists frequenting the area.

However, before they can fulfill their plans, they were intercepted by government forces, killing Askali and three others last April 11.

In the ensuing firefight, three soldiers and police officer were killed along with an elderly couple.

Pursuit operations, which culminated in Barangay Bacani, Clarin town last April 22, resulted in the death of ASG contact Joselito Milloria and three more bandits with no losses to the government side.


Lanao Sur offensive designed to degrade Maute Group capabilities: AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): Lanao Sur offensive designed to degrade Maute Group capabilities: AFP

The recent operation against the Maute Group, which killed 37 bandits, is part of ongoing military efforts to degrade the capability of the brigands to wreak terror in Mindanao and other parts of the country, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, Gen. Eduardo Año said Tuesday.

The military operation in Lanao del Sur province, conducted on April 21-24, was a deliberate military offensive purely designed to degrade the capability of the Maute Group, Año said in an interview.

In that offensive, 37 Maute Group members were killed, 14 of whom have been identified. They include three Indonesians and one Malaysian whose names and identities are still being verified, he said.

The AFP chief added that this operation is in line with ongoing efforts to neutralize the remaining Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits in Bohol who made an ill-advised attempt to land in Inabanga last April 10 to abduct some local and foreign tourists to boost their kidnap-for-ransom activities.

As of this posting, eight of the 11 ASG fighters under Muamar Askali alias "Abu Rami" have been killed, along with the bandit commander and their Inabanga contact, Joselito Milloria.

The AFP chief added that they are still locating a certain Imnam Bantayao or Bayabao, a former Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader under Commander Bravo, and ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon, believed to have been killed or severely wounded in the series of military offensives.

"We are still conducting mopping operations to locate Hapilon or proof of life (along with Bantayao or Bayabao)," he disclosed.

Año declined to give a number of the surviving Maute Group members following this offensive, adding that an assessment will be implemented shortly.


Military still unsure of identities of Chinese harassers of PHL fishermen off Union Bank

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): Military still unsure of identities of Chinese harassers of PHL fishermen off Union Bank

The military is still to determine on whether it was members of the Chinese Navy or Coast Guard that harassed Filipino fishermen off Union Bank, in the Spratlys Island Chain early this month.

"We are still to determine that. What we know for sure is that seven Chinese personnel with firearms and aboard a rubber boat, which came from a Chinese vessel, we are still to determine on whether it (came from a Chinese Navy or Coast Guard ship)," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año said Tuesday.

"So now we have gathered the data and then informed already the Department of Foreign Affairs, now the all other actions will be acted upon by the DFA," he added.

Año earlier said he received an initial report on the incident from Western Command head Lt. Gen. Raul Del Rosario.

He added that harassed fishermen came from La Union.

Año also said Union Bank, a submerged feature, is near Gaven Reef, a feature holding some Chinese structures.


Nobleza, Dongon undergo tactical interrogation at Camp Crame

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): Nobleza, Dongon undergo tactical interrogation at Camp Crame

Supt. Maria Cristina Nobleza and her alleged boyfriend Reener "Ren Ren" Dongon, a suspected member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), are now undergoing tactical interrogation at the Philippine National Police (PNP) National Headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

The two suspects arrived in Camp Crame at about 10 a.m. Tuesday from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 in Pasay City.

Nobleza and Dongon left Tagbilaran City, Bohol at 8 a.m. Tuesday onboard a commercial flight.

They were immediately taken to the PNP Directorate for Intelligence headquarters in Camp Crame.

Nobleza wore a checkered blue polo while Dongon wore a black polo T-shirt.

She was among those arrested in a checkpoint in Bohol for allegedly attempting to rescue an ASG member who was wounded in an encounter in Clarin, Bohol.

Nobleza was suspected to be a conspirator and protector of ASG bandits.

Menahile, the PNP is determining whether Nobleza's husband is indeed the country's current police attache in Pakistan.

Nobleza confirmed to Dela Rosa that her husband is returning to the country.

Dela Rosa confirmed that Nobleza was assigned in the intelligence group, but she is not a "deep penetrating agent (DPA)".

Authorities raided the house of Nobleza in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on Monday night where various firearms, bomb components and documents were recovered in connection with the alleged plans of terroristic activities of the ASG bandits.

A certain Al Mohammar and two minors were inside Nobleza's house when authorities conducted the raid.

Policemen also raided Nobleza's temporary residence in Panglao beach in Bohol where bomb-making materials were also recovered.


No serious threat seen on ASEAN Summit

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): No serious threat seen on ASEAN Summit

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) allayed the public's fears of any serious threat to the 30th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit this week.

In a press briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday, April 25, AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, Jr. said they do not see any serious threat but authorities are prepared for any worst-case scenario.

“On the issue of ASEAN, the Armed Forces is part of the task force. The security and the one in charge of safeguarding and ensuring the events under ASEAN hosting goes on well is composed of a lot of agencies,” Padilla said. “We are all part of this team entrusted to ensure that the activities are held without any hitch.”

“We don’t see any threat right now, no serious threat that is in the radar screen but our planning is always based on worst-case scenarios,” he said.

“So whatever worst-case scenarios that we anticipate that could happen, then adequate preparations and plans are laid down to meet these scenarios,” he added.

Padilla assured that the Joint Task Force-National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) is fully equipped with whatever they need and the AFP has provided whatever it is that they will still need just in case of any contingency.

The AFP spokesperson meanwhile assured that the terror threat in Bohol has already been addressed as he called on tourists not to cancel their tour reservations.

It will be recalled that government forces clashed with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Bohol last week.

“The Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police [are] happy to inform you that the threats we faced in the island of Bohol and the other are confirmed reports that have been coming our way as well as to the public regarding dangers posed by terrorists in our tourists areas is already addressed,” Padilla said.

In the same briefing, Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the Philippines is gaining momentum as a foreign direct investment (FDI) destination.

Abella said that FDI inflow last year reached USD 7.9 billion, exceeding the full-year target of USD 6.7 billion, and 40.7 percent higher compared to 2015.

“The President made the commitment to prioritize a better life for all, to improve lives by reducing poverty by rebuilding trust in government and peace in our borders,” Abella said.

“We’re gathering more momentum as a growing number of investors notice the positive results of our economy which rests on solid economic fundamentals, increased spending for crucial infrastructure, tax and constitutional reforms and a relentless drive to create a peaceful environment for business to flourish,” he added.

Abella also noted that the projects registered with the Board of Investments (BoI) have increased by 67 percent in first quarter of 2017 or from 72 to 122 projects.

“Once operational, these projects are seen to generate about 36,115 jobs or an increase of 181 percent over the 12,841 jobs generated in the first quarter of 2016,” Abella said, adding that these investment projects are also expected to create 6,884 new jobs in agriculture and 24,367 new jobs in investment and housing projects; and 3,038 new jobs for the manufacturing-related projects.


ASEAN 2017: An opportunity to ensure rules-based order succeeds in ASEAN to settle WPS issue

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): ASEAN 2017: An opportunity to ensure rules-based order succeeds in ASEAN to settle WPS issue

As this year’s chair of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines may have the opportunity to call on its ASEAN neighbors to unite in dealing with West Philippine Sea (WPS)/South China Sea dispute and ensure that rules-based system succeeds.

Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director at the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, considered united ASEAN a “formidable force” even as China is much larger than any one of these countries.

“United ASEAN has still a good number of people and they basically surround China’s backdoors. So China will still, I think, be constrained to give way to some of ASEAN’s demand if they unite,” he told reporters on the sidelines of media forum on the South China Sea.

As ASEAN leaders meet here this week, Batongbacal hoped that the regional bloc would tackle the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea through addressing crisis mechanism to prevent the excessive law enforcement and military activity, especially against Filipino fishermen.

He said they should also come up with an agreement on conserving and preserving the marine environment to control the over exploitation and the destruction of these resources.

“We need to protect this common resource, it’s all on our interest. At least those two, I hope it will have progress even if you have to settle for just this so-called framework,” he added.

Batongbacal was referring to the framework for a code of conduct in the West Philippine Sea, which ASEAN members and China targeted to complete within the year.

Several countries have made competing claims over the South China Sea, including China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Foreign policy analyst Richard Heydarian said the Philippine ASEAN chairmanship could be a venue to raise maritime issues.

“We may not get exactly what we want in the final statement but we can decide on what will be discussed in the ASEAN agenda. Second thing, during President Duterte’s chairman statement especially later this year in November, he can say whatever he wants and that also work in our benefit if we uses that opportunity in the right way,” he said during the forum.

For his part, Ambassador Albert del Rosario said the Philippines has a “unique and an important opportunity to dwell on how we can work with our neighbors to ensure that this rules-based order succeeds.”

“The purpose of our cooperation should go beyond maintaining friendly ties; we must also cooperate to ensure that we live in a neighborhood where countries follow the rules and uphold their commitments,” he said.

In 2002, ASEAN and China committed to a non-binding agreement over how they should all behave in the South China Sea.

“ASEAN must be united in countering this challenge to its regional centrality and solidarity. I believe that promoting the rule of law and strengthening multilateralism in support of the law must be key parts of ASEAN’s response,” he added.

Del Rosario, chairman of Stratbase ADR Institute, also believed that the ruling should be an integral part of the code of conduct framework being finalized and the eventual code of conduct.

The West Philippine Sea will be among the important topics to be discussed by the leaders of ASEAN members during the 30th ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings slated from April 26 to 29.


Intel ops ongoing to locate foreign sympathizers of PHL terror groups

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 25): Intel ops ongoing to locate foreign sympathizers of PHL terror groups

Efforts are ongoing to detect foreigners or Arab-looking personalities out to support local terrorists groups in Lanao Del Sur and other parts of the country.

This was the response of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año when asked if there are any sightings of Arab personalities in areas where lawless bands like the Maute Group are known to operate.

"Yes, there are some sightings of Arab personalities, but as I said before there are Arabs going there on the pretext of building foundation or to teach religious teaching so we are not really sure (if they are really sympathizers or not) but of course, it is part of the intelligence tasking to look for foreigners who are inclined to support or to be affiliated with our local terror groups even including those of (Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon) Hapilon," he added in Filipino.

Earlier, Año said that around 37 Maute Group members, including three Indonesian and one Malaysian, were reported killed during military operations in Lanao Del Sur last April 21 to 24.

These operations are designed to degrade the capability of the Maute Group.

The AFP chief said that of the 37 killed, 14 were already identified and the remaining fatalities still unidentified as of this posting.


PHL explores paths to modern defense (Pt. 3-Conclusion)

From the Business Mirror (Apr 25): PHL explores paths to modern defense (Pt. 3-Conclusion)

In Photo: A parade of colors by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Villamor Airbase, Pasay City, is shown in this file photo. President Duterte’s realistic assessment that the country will never win militarily against Beijing apparently influenced the administration’s decision to scale back the modernization procurement by going for smaller assets.


THE prevailing trend of increased defense spending in Southeast Asia, which has even outpaced Europe, has been linked to China’s “provocative” rise as a military superpower, and what its neighbors viewed as its “irresponsible” behavior in the South China Sea.

China even disputed, through its 9-dash map, territories and claims by countries like Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Vietnam and even Taiwan. While these countries saw the need to defend their respective stake on the South China Sea, other regional states were also worried, if not threatened, by Beijing’s muscle flexing and assertiveness in pursuing its claims. Beijing’s overzealousness in pushing for its stakes, at times, even led it to encroach deep into the territories of the Asean members, like Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Even Indonesia’s Natuna Island has seen deliberate entries and presence of Chinese warships in the past.

Defense analysts in the region, all agreed that the military allocations and spending by many Asean member-countries were basically influenced by China’s direction and assertive actions. The huge budget flowing across the region prodded the world’s biggest defense contractors to turn their eyes to Southeast Asia.

China, a threat

MANILA has labeled Beijing as a security threat.

The administration under President Benigno S. Aquino III has tagged China as the single foreign threat to the country, citing Beijing’s policy demeanor characterized by a de facto occupation of the Scarborough Shoal. The Aquino administration also noted China’s constant harassments of resupplies to Filipino soldiers guarding the Ayungin Shoal, as well as its regular challenges of flights near reefs in the West Philippine Sea that Chinese troops have occupied.

No less than Voltaire T. Gazmin, the then defense secretary, who declared that China poses the most imminent threat to the country’s security, owing to its deliberate and nonstop development of the reefs, which it turned into military fortresses.

As early as 2015, then-Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang had already warned of the “indescribable” effects of Chinese activities in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea, citing as example the ongoing construction of an airfield at that time.

Catapang has said the Chinese airfield will permanently alter the Philippine security landscape by directly putting the country within China’s striking distance, other than choking or cutting Manila’s access to its occupied territories, including Pagasa Island.

China could also derail or even stop supplies to troops guarding Ayungin Shoal, which later became the habit for Chinese military and paramilitary ships.

“We feel we are in a very difficult situation now because they are reclaiming the Mischief Reef,” Catapang candidly admitted that time. “So if they reclaim the Mischief Reef, we will be cut off. We have a series of islands going down south, going up north and it will challenge the Ayungin shoal.”

Beijing also occupies Kagitingan, Mabini, Chigua, Cuarteron, Burgos, Subi and Gaven Reefs, most of which, like Mischief, have been militarily redeveloped to accommodate warships and bigger aircraft. Elaborate gun placements were also made.

In its Annual Report to Congress, the US Department of Defense (DOD) accused China of having added “more than 3,200 acres of land to the seven features it occupies in the archipelago” in late 2015.

‘Credible posture’

THE so-called Chinese threat and what the Aquino government described as constant harassment and bullying by Beijing of both military resupplies and Filipino fishermen, prompted the hastening of the modernization of the military.

Gazmin has said that, while the state renounces war as a national policy, it also has the duty and obligation to defend the country’s sovereignty and national integrity when it is directly challenged, regardless of the outcome. Otherwise, it ceases to exist as a state, he explained. Gazmin has also said that, with the state of the Philippine military, the country may unlikely win against Beijing. Nonetheless, the country’s armed forces, he explained, must put up a credible defense posture.

Gazmin said this is the “patriotic” thing to do for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Chief’s friend

WHILE China’s official standing in the national security listing of the Duterte administration is still unclear, the President sees and even considered Beijing as a friend, and not a foe, judging from the Commander in Chief’s constant pronouncements.

The fact that Duterte has turned to the Chinese government to equip Filipino soldiers is a testament to his fondness for China. This stance is despite the unsettled West Philippine Sea ruling by a UN court, which the Commander in Chief also continuously relegate to the sidelines.

Duterte even took the cudgels for Beijing’s recent incursions in the Benham Rise, saying he has approved it. However, neither his defense executives nor foreign affairs officials knew about such incursions.

It was China and its issues that oftentimes transform Duterte into an erratic and irresolute Commander in Chief.

Just recently, the President said he would go to Pagasa Island on Independence Day to plant the country’s tricolor there. He later backtracked on this vow while on official visit abroad.

The Commander in Chief has maintained he would never go to war with China, as the Philippines would never stand a chance against Beijing’s military might.

The US DOD report of 2016 has said “China’s officially disclosed military budget grew at an average of 9.8 percent per year in inflation-adjusted terms from 2006 through 2015.”

“And Chinese leaders seem committed to sustaining defense spending growth for the foreseeable future, even as China’s economic growth decelerates,” the DOD report, released for the request of budget from the US Congress, said.

To note, Duterte has said the Philippines cannot do anything against China’s wishes in the West Philippine Sea, as the US has even failed to restrain Beijing in its development activities there.

Duterte’s soft spot for China, which he sees a friend and a benefactor for the country, and his realistic assessment that the country will never win militarily against Beijing, apparently influenced the administration’s decision to scale back the modernization procurement by going for smaller assets.

As a middle ground, though, he has just ordered the military to occupy the still uninhabited islets and reefs in the West Philippine Sea, before “they could even be occupied” by others.

Defense and military officials, however, said the Philippines has already occupied all the features that it claims in the West Philippine Sea, except those that are already under Chinese control.

For Duterte, the West Philippine Sea is just a “battle of occupation” or who gets first into which feature. The problem is, the Philippines’s pocket is not as deep as its rival.