Monday, November 13, 2017

Turnbull visits Camp Aguinaldo, witnesses PH-Australia war game

From Rappler (Nov 13): Turnbull visits Camp Aguinaldo, witnesses PH-Australia war game

Filipino and Australian troops perform a training demonstration of enhanced counter-terrorism cooperation on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit

COOPERATION. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hails the liberation of Marawi City from ISIS-linked groups

COOPERATION. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hails the liberation of Marawi City from ISIS-linked groups

Australian Prime Minister Malcom visited the Philippine military headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo, on Monday, November 13, to witness a war game between troops of the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and their counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
About 20 Filipino and Australian troops performed a training demonstration of enhanced counter-terrorism cooperation, simulating urban operations with counter improvised explosive devise (counter-IED) scenario.

Turnbull watched the simulation with AFP chief of staff General Rey Guerrero and Philippine Army chief Lietuenant General Rolando Bautista.

Turnbull is in the Philippines for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits. The Philippines is the chair of the ASEAN this year.

A side trip to Camp Aguinaldo was an opportunity for Turnbull to visit Australian troops deployed in the country. 
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The ADF has less than a hundred troops in the Philippines. Australia is one of only two countries with a visiting forces (VFA) agreement with the Philippines under a treaty ratified by the Philippine Senate in 2012. The other country is the US.

ASEAN SUMMIT. Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull is in the Philippines for the ASEAN Summit
Australian troops also join the Philippine and US militaries in the annual Balikatan war games. Australia also assisted the Philippine military in its recent battle with local terror groups that pledged allegiance to the international terrorist network Islamic State.

Australia, along with US, flew its P3 Orion surveillance planes to locate the enemies in the battle zone. It also offered to train Filipino troops in urban warfare and pledged donations for Marawi residents displaced by the war.

In his ASEAN Summit opening speech on Monday morning, President Rodrigo Duterte highlighted the importance of international cooperation in fighting terrorism. (READ: Duterte opens ASEAN Summit with calls vs terrorism)

He cited the Philippine experience in Marawi City, where troops fought armed radicals for 5 months with the assistance of allies.

PH, Australia commit to strengthen cooperation vs terrorism

From Rappler (Nov 13): PH, Australia commit to strengthen cooperation vs terrorism

AFP chief of staff General Rey Guerrero presents the capabilities and concerns of the Philippine military in fighting terrorism, particularly the threat from ISIS

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met with Philippine security officials on Monday, November 13, to commit stronger cooperation in fighting terrorism in the region.

"We are in the same fight [against terrorism]. Now more than ever the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are working together, supporting each other, learning from each other, and fighting the fight, we cannot afford to lose," Turnbull said in a statement to the media on Monday.

Turnbull visited the Philippine military headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo, to meet with security officials and witness a little war game between Australian and Filipino troops. (READ and WATCH: Turnbull visits Camp Aguinaldo, witnesses PH-Australia war game)

AFP chief of staff General Rey Guerrero said they presented the AFP capabilities and concerns in fighting terrorism, particularly the threat from international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS).

"We have agreed that the military to military cooperation between the ADF and the AFP should be strengthened. In that regard we have agreed to push through and strengthen our activities, particularly in the area of intelligence and border protection," said Guerrero.

Turnbull highlighted the need for cooperation given the nature of the Islamic State (ISIS), the international terrorist network, whose radical ideology has spread worldwide.

Turnbull hailed the Philippine military's operations to flush out ISIS-linked armed groups in Marawi City, where they sought to establish an Islamic caliphate.

Australia, a treaty ally, provided assistance. The flew surveillance planes to help the Philippine military locate the enemies in the difficult urban terrain. They also provided assistance to Marawi residents displaced by the war.

Turnbull said they will continue to assist in the rehabilitation of Marawi.

"We cannot afford to let them have a foothold anywhere else, let alone in our region. Everything is connected – Syria, Iraq, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Straits of Australia. We are all connected," Turnbull said.

Drug pushing soldiers

From the Mindanao Times (Nov 13): Drug pushing soldiers

Task Force Davao, 3rd IB members among 5 arrested suspects

TWO SOLDIERS, including a militiaman assigned with the elite Task Force Davao (TFD), and three other civilians who are posing as soldiers were collared following a buy-bust operation conducted by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Tagum City, Davao del Norte on early Saturday morning.

Nephi Noli Dimaandal, PDEA XI spokesperson, identified the suspects as Cpl. Cristituto Gabino Macagubang Jr. alias Mac-Mac, ReyJay Mission, Alvin Aleria Binondo, John Louie Segovia and Regie Impas.

Macagubang, the actual target, is a member of the 3rd Infantry Battalion. Mission is a Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) Active Auxiliary (CAA) assigned at the Lasang detachment of the TFD. Binondo and Segovia are both posing as soldiers while Impas is said to be a gun-for-hire member.

Dimaandal said the operation was successful due to the cooperation of the TFD, the Task Force Tagum, the 71st Infantry Battalion and 46th Infantry Battalion, and the Tagum City Police Station.

The buy-bust was conducted after the test buy they conducted on Macagubang turned out positive.

Dimaandal said Macagubang, a high-value target being a government agent, has long been placed under surveillance.

The suspects were arrested for conspiring with each other in selling a sachet of shabu worth P1,000 to an undercover agent who acted as poseur buyer during the operation conducted 2:45 a.m. at Purok Talisay, Seminary Drive, Tagum City, Davao del Norte.

Dimaandal said a shoot-out erupted as the armed Impas shot the arresting officer.

He said the vehicle used by the operatives was hit by a bullet coming from Impas.

Operatives hit Impas but he managed to escape. He was later arrested in the nearby hospital in Tagum where he took shelter.

Impas, Dimaandal said, is a member of a gun-for-hire group operating in Davao del Norte.

Mission, on the other hand, also managed to escape arrest. However, he reported to work later that day where he was collared by his superiors who were already informed by the PDEA agents.

The others suspects were arrested on the spot.

Authorities were able to seize from the suspects four medium-sized sachets, suspected to contain shabu weighing about five grams with a street value of P75,000. The P1,000 buy-bust money was also recovered.

Three units of .45 caliber firearms with live ammunitions were seized during the operation.

The XRM and Bajah motorcycles allegedly used in the illegal drug activities were also confiscated.

The five suspects were tested positive in the drug test conducted after their arrest.

The suspects are now detained at PDEA XI detention facility pending the filing of charges for violation of Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002) and Republic Act 10591 (Illegal Possession of Firearms).

Dimaandal said they are conducting further investigation on the background of Binondo and Segovia, who both possessed fake military identification cards.

Maj. Gen. Noel Clement, the 10th Infantry Division commander, said his command is not tolerating any illegal activities.

“10ID does not tolerate any illegal activity of its soldiers, especially if it involves illegal drug,” Clement said.

Lt. Col. Raymund Dante Lachica, the commander of 3rd IB based in Malagos, Calinan District, echoed Clement’s statement.

“We do not tolerate such act and we will do our part to punish our personnel who are involved in criminal activities,” said Lachica, assuring that appropriate penalty would be imposed to the guilty soldier.

The 3rd IB, originally under the Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, is currently under the operational control of 10th ID’s 1003rd Infantry Brigade.

Col. Nolasco Mempin, the TFD commander, confirmed that Mission is a militiaman assigned at its Lasang detachment.

When the TFD received inquiries from the PDEA regarding Mission, they immediately turned him over to anti-drug agency for questioning and further investigation.

Mempin said Mission admitted his involvement in illegal drugs activity to the agents.

He said the TF Davao is extending full cooperation and support to PDEA to weed out scalawags in its unit.

For this year, he said the TF Davao already conducted three random drug tests to ensure that all of its personnel are free from illegal drugs.

Madrigal is new chief of Eastern Mindanao Command

From MindaNews (Nov 13): Madrigal is new chief of Eastern Mindanao Command

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal is the new chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom), the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Public Affairs Office announced Sunday.

Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo, Chief of the AFP’s PAO, said Madrigal, Southern Luzon Command chief, will take over the post vacated by Lt. Gen. Rey Leonard Guerrero, who assumed the post of AFP Chief of Staff on October 26.

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigall, Southern Luzon Command chief, will assume the post of commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command on November 15, 2017. Photo taken on July 13 during a peace conference in Cagayan de Oro City, while Madrigal was still 4th Infantry Division chief. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

Arevalo also announced that Lt. Gen. Rozzano Briguez will assume the post of chief of the Western Command (WesCom) based in Palawan.

Brig. Gen. Perfecto Rimando, Jr. was named Acting EastMinCom chief when Guerrero vacated the post last month.

Madrigal, a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Sandiwa” Class of 1985, was commander of the 4th Infantry Division before he assumed the post of SolCom chief on August 18 this year.

Three months later, Madrigal will be serving as EastMinCom chief. He will assume the post on November 15.

Madrigal will be the 10th commander of the 11-year old EastMinCom. The Command during its activation in 2006 was given responsibility over South Eastern Mindanao, Central and Northern Mindanao with the mission of “conducting joint operations against all national security threats in the area.”

The New People’s Army’s biggest concentration of guerrillas nationwide is within the EastMinCom’s area of responsibility – in Caraga and Davao regions.

Madrigal had earlier served as Assistant Division Commander and later Acting Division Commander of the 10th Infantry Division in Compostela Valley, Davao region before becoming Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army.

He also held major positions in the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ General Headquarters as Chief of War Plans Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, OJ5; Secretary Joint Staff, AFP; and Head Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff.

Arevalo said Madrigal is “mission-focused yet able to balance the welfare of the men … hardworking … a visionary leader and skilful manager.”

Briguez, a member of PMA “Sinagtala” Class of 1986, will command the country’s western frontier as he relinquished his post as Vice Commander of the Philippine Air Force (PAF). He will assume the post left by Lt Gen. Galileo Gerard Kintanar who was named PAF Commanding General.

Arevalo said Briguez joined the PAF and graduated as class topnotcher from the PAF Flying School in 1988.

Briguez was former Chief of Air Staff, PAF; Commandant of Cadets, PMA; Deputy Wing Commander, 250th Presidential Airlift Wing, Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Operations, A-3, Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Education and Training, A-8, and Commander, Tactical Operations Group 11.

Madrigal and Briguez donned their third star as Lieutenant Generals on November 13 at the Hall of Flags in Camp Aguinaldo.

The Eastern Mindanao Command originally had three Army Infantry Divisions: the 4th Infantry Division stationed at Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro City; 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao; and 10th Infantry Division situated in Compostela Valley but it in order to “focus against threats posed by the NPA,” it released control over 6th Infantry Division in 2012, except the eastern part of North Cotabato and the town of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

Also under the EastMinCom is the 52nd Engineer Brigade based in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon; the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao in Panacan, Davao City, and three Tactical Operations Group of the PAF.

Philippines hands over recovered Vietnamese sailors to ministry officials

From the Mindanao Examiner (Nov 12): Philippines hands over recovered Vietnamese sailors to ministry officials

vietnamese nationals turnover to Vietnamese Embassy (2)

vietnamese nationals turnover to Vietnamese Embassy (3)

vietnamese nationals turnover to Vietnamese Embassy (9)

Philippine military photos show Vietnamese sailors Buy Xuan Vien, Bui Trung Duc and Nguten Quang Huy while being presented by Rear Admiral Rene Medina, of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, to Nguyen Duc Bien, of the Consular Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who flew to Zamboanga to receive the crew members of MV Giang Hai 5 who were recovered by Filipino soldiers on November 10, 2017 on the island of Languyan in Tawi-Tawi province. (Mindanao Examiner)

The Philippine military on Sunday handed over to Vietnam three of its kidnapped citizens recovered by troops on the remote southern province of Tawi-Tawi.

It also turned over the remains of another kidnapped Vietnamese sailor Nguyin Huu Trong who allegedly died in captivity due to a lingering illness. The trio – Buy Xuan Vien, Bui Trung Duc and Nguten Quang Huy – were presented by Rear Admiral Rene Medina, the regional navy commander, to Nguyen Duc Bien, of the Consular Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who flew to Zamboanga to receive the sailors.

The three men were crew members of the cargo ship MV Giang Hai 5 kidnapped along with over a dozen others in February while sailing off Sulu Archipelago. They are expected to be presented to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc who is in Manila for the ASEAN summit.

Journalists were not invited to the handover of the sailors at the Western Mindanao Command and security officials also did not provide details of the so-called special operations launched by the military on Friday on Languyan Island that resulted in the recovery of the Vietnamese.

But Brigadier General Custodio Parcon, Jr., commander of the Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi, said marines and navy forces were involved in the operations. “Through the operations conducted by our marines and navy, we successfully recovered the Vietnamese hostages off Tawi-Tawi waters, and we mean to intensify our offensives to pressure the bandits to yield,” he said in a statement released the same day the hostages had been freed.

It was unknown whether the sailors had been freed in exchange for ransom or not. No one among the officials gave details of the “special operations”, but there had been no report either of clashes between security and Abu Sayyaf forces on the island. There was no report of any arrest made by soldiers.

Two of the crewmen were also killed by the Abu Sayyaf while attempting to escape during the hijacking while the rest had been recovered by soldiers. The recovery of the sailors coincided with President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Vietnam for the APEC summit. The Abu Sayyaf is still holding 7 foreigners and 9 Filipinos.

Army wins hearts of communist rebels in SK

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 11): Army wins hearts of communist rebels in SK

The military in Sultan Kudarat continued to win the hearts of communist rebels with more New Peoples Army (NPA) guerillas returning to the mainstream society.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, Army’s 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the latest surrender of communist rebels took place Friday before officials of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion in Esperanza town in Sultan Kudarat.

Encinas identified the four NPA rebels as Ongoy Galing aka Jeric, 23 years old, Sammy Galing, 51 years old, Archie Balabagan, 31 years old, and Ese Ginta, 49 years old who are residents of Barangay Marquez,

They belonged to the NPA Platoon My Phone of Guerrilla Front 73.

The rebel returnees turned over two Elisco rifles, 1 Bushmaster rifle, and 1 Garand rifle.

This week alone, a total of 10 communist rebels have surrendered to the military. Eight of whom yielded last Nov. 2 and another two on Nov. 6.

Since May, a total of 72 rebels from the Manobo Dulangan indigenous peoples community operating in the Daguma ranges have rejoined the mainstream.

Encinas said the former rebels have decided to return to the folds of law because of the hardship they experienced in the mountains of Sultan Kudarat and the false promises of their communist leaders.

The surrender of the rebels was a joint effort of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion (IB), 33rd IB, and 38th IB. They were presented to Esperanza Mayor Helen Latog and Sultan Kudarat Governor Pakung Mangudadatu, respectively.

As surrenderers, they are qualified to avail of the government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program where they get livelihood assistance to restart a new life.

Manhunt on for suspects in foiled burning of Catholic chapel

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 12): Manhunt on for suspects in foiled burning of Catholic chapel

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao -- Police and fire officials here have launched a manhunt against men who tried to set on fire a Catholic chapel in Barangay Labo-Labo here on Friday night.

Fire Officer 1 Alonto Blaim, Shariff Aguak fire marshall, said local police and fire personnel have the lead that could eventually identify and arrest the suspects who set on fire the San Isidro de Labrador chapel at around 9 p.m.

Blaim said the timely arrival of the fire truck and fire fighters prevented the total burning of the chapel.

Quoting witnesses near the chapel, unidentified suspects poured gasoline at the San Isidro Labrador chapel’s altar and religious articles and statues.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the small worship place situated beside the national highway.

Responding fire officers put off the fire 30 minutes later. Blaim said a portion of the chapel’s wall was forcibly opened and used as entry point of the suspects.

4 soldiers, gun-for-hire nabbed in PDEA ops

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 12): 4 soldiers, gun-for-hire nabbed in PDEA ops

Operatives of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency 11 (PDEA 11) arrested four soldiers and a suspected gun-for-hire after a brief firefight in Tagum City, Davao del Norte on Saturday.

PDEA 11 officer-in-charge Naravy Duquiatan identified the suspects as Cpl. Cristiuto G. Macagubang Jr. who is assigned to the 3rd Infantry Batallion and detailed at Barangay Malagos in Baguio District; Cpl. John Louie Segovia and Sgt. Albin Binondo, both assigned to the 10th Infantry Division; John Rey Mission, a member of Task Force Davao; and Regie Impas, an alleged gun-for-hire.

Duquiatan said PDEA operatives with assistance from Task Force Davao, Task Force Tagum, Tagum City Police Station and 46th IB, conducted a buy-bust operation at Purok Talisay, Seminary Drive in Barangay West Magugpo.

"Napalitan ni sila, nagkasinabot no sila (There were illegal drugs bought from them, and they colluded with each other)," Duquiatan said.

A brief firefight ensued as the arrested suspects tried to resist arrest prompting law enforcers to fight back and wounded in the process.

Impas was immediately brought to Davao Regional Medical Center. After treatment, he and his cohorts were brought to PDEA 11 detention facility in Davao City.

Recovered from the possession of the suspects were five grams of suspected methamphetamine hydrochloride with an estimated value of PHP75,000, three .45 pistols, several ammunition and motorcycles.

Duquiatan said cases of violation of sections 3 for selling and 11 for possession under Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 will be filed against the five suspects.

Local talks with NPA to continue despite NDFP rejection

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 12): Local talks with NPA to continue despite NDFP rejection

Despite the rejection of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on the localized peace talks of Davao City government, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio would pursue the local dialogue with the New People’s Army (NPA).

“Maybe that is their (NDFP) opinion but as the representative of the City Government of Davao, I have a duty to pursue just and lasting peace in the city,” Duterte-Carpio said.

She added that this is her initiative which she believes can attain peace in the city.

“But, it really depends on the NPA if they really want to talk with us,” she said.

Duterte-Carpio said the Local Peace Committee (DC PEACE) is given up to November 30 next year. If there is no progress with the dialogue, she will terminate as there is no point talking with the rebels if they do not want peace in the city.

She said the rebels do not need to surrender their firearms just because she only wants them to work with the government.

The NDFP posted on their website last November 2 that Duterte-Carpio’s local peace talks will surely fail in its aim of dividing the revolutionary forces waging a nationwide people’s war.

It stated that the Duterte regime is wasting time and the people’s money in setting-up these useless local peace committees which will go nowhere and achieve nothing.

“These are mere rehashes of worn-out psywar surrender programs such as the 'balik-baril program' and the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) riding on the popular clamor for peace talks,” the statement said.

The statement said the entire NPA is united under the central leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The Party and all units of the NPA support the Negotiating Panel of the NDFP in its representation of all revolutionary forces in negotiations with the GRP with the aim of forging agreements to settle the outstanding socio-economic and political questions that compel the people to wage armed struggle.
From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 12):

Marawi siege prompts need to modernize AFP: Lorenzana

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 12): Marawi siege prompts need to modernize AFP: Lorenzana

Marawi City combat operations saw the need to invest more in the modernization of the military.

“The Marawi Siege indeed serves as a reminder that guarding our nation from the perils of terrorism is a shared responsibility and that all of us must be vigilant. It also reminds us of the importance of our mandate, and a wake-up call that we must invest more on improving our capabilities and modernizing our equipment,” Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

Fighting in Marawi City started last May 23 when government forces tried to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts.

It was declared over on Oct. 23 after Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilor Hapilon and Maute group co-founder Omar Maute were killed in one of the last encounters of the five-month military operations.

An estimated 923 terrorists were killed while 165 troopers and police officers were killed in the campaign.

Fighting proved difficult as Filipino soldiers are not equipped and lack training for urban warfare scenarios.

“In relation to this, our department ensured the completion of Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Project to achieve a stronger and more credible national defense system," he said.

"From July 1, 2016 to October 20, 2017, 20 projects were delivered which are expected to improve the capability of the AFP in terms of internal security, territorial defense, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response,” Lorenzana added.

Delivered were the South Korean-made FA-50PH, of which 12 were ordered from Korea Aerospace Industries; the second strategic sealift vessel, the BRP Davao Del Sur, which was ordered from PT PAL Persero, an Indonesia shipbuilder; and three additional multi-purpose assault craft from local shipbuilder Propmech.

Specialized military units secure ASEAN delegates

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 12): Specialized military units secure ASEAN delegates

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced that specialized land, air and sea units are deployed to secure all delegates of the ongoing ASEAN Summit 2017.

This is aside from augmenting regular units deployed to secure these persons, AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said Sunday.

“The AFP through the Joint Task Force National Capital Region has deployed the best among its forces to work with the Philippine National Police and other government agencies concerned in ensuring the safe and secured conduct of the ASEAN Meetings in the Philippines,” he added.

Five joint task groups were deployed to perform security and emergency response operations to support the concerned government agencies from November 10 to 14.

Arevalo said this deployment is part of the Task Force’s Oplan ASEAN Leaders’ Summit (ALS).

Under Oplan ALS, Joint Task Force NCR provides augmentation forces to the National Capital Region Police Office and Presidential Security Group.

It also provided emergency response units such as search, rescue, and retrieval units and ambu-medic units to provide rescue and health support to delegates and all deployed forces.

“The AFP has long been planning and preparing for contingency measures to address any worse case scenarios during the ASEAN Meetings. This is in line with our task of providing security coverage for the venues as well as the safety of the people and all our visitors,” he added.

Eastmincom, Wescom get new commanders

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 12): Eastmincom, Wescom get new commanders

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Sunday named new commanders of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) and Western Command (Wescom).

In a statement, AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo announced the appointment of Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal and Lt. Gen. Rozzano Briguez as the new heads of the Eastmincom and Wescom, respectively.

“Lieutenant General Benjamin Madrigal is the new Commander of Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) based in Davao City. Lieutenant General Rozzano Briguez will command the Western Command (Wescom) stationed in Palawan,” Arevalo said.

Madrigal and Briguez will be officially promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General in a ceremony on Monday at the AFP Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City that will be led by AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero.

Madrigal will replace Brig. Gen. Perfecto Rimando Jr., who served as Eastmincom Acting Commander following the appointment of then Commander Guerrero to the AFP's top post.

A member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Sandiwa” Class of 1985, Madrigal is currently the Commander of the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom).

Prior to his appointment as SOLCOM Commander, Madrigal held key positions in the Philippine Army such as Commander of the 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan De Oro; Assistant Division Commander and later Acting Division Commander of the 10th Infantry Division in Compostela Valley before becoming the Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army.

He also held major positions in the AFP General Headquarters as Chief of War Plans Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, OJ5; Secretary Joint Staff, AFP; and Head Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff.

Briguez, meanwhile, is then Vice Commander of the Philippine Air Force (PAF). He will succeed Lt. Gen. Galileo Gerard Kintanar who became PAF’s 35th Commanding General.

A member of PMA “Sinagtala” Class of 1986, Briguez joined PAF and graduated at the top of his class from the PAF Flying School in 1988.

Prior to his stint as PAF Vice Commander, Briguez was former Chief of Air Staff, PAF; Commandant of Cadets, PMA; Deputy Wing Commander, 250th Presidential Airlift Wing, Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Operations, A-3, Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Education and Training, A-8, and Commander, Tactical Operations Group 11.

“The appointments of MGen Madrigal and MGen Briguez signify the progressive nature of the career we chose as soldiers in the military organization. The AFP leadership believes that it has put the right men for the job and that the momentum of each area command will be continued to support our overall mission towards just and lasting peace,” Guerrero noted.

PH thanks Trump for offering to mediate South China Sea row

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 12): PH thanks Trump for offering to mediate South China Sea row

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Sunday said the Philippines appreciates the offer of United States President Donald Trump to fill in a mediator role in the existing dispute between China and littoral countries in the South China Sea.

"We thank him for it. It’s a very kind, generous offer because he is a good mediator," Cayetano said in an ambush interview at the Marriott Hotel. "He is the master of the art of the deal."

While Manila appreciates Trump's "honest" offer, Cayetano said claimant countries in the contested waters must first give their take on the proposal.

"Of course, the claimant countries have to answer as a group or individually, and not one country can just give an instant reply because mediation involves all of the claimants and non-claimants," he pointed out.

He reaffirmed that the parties involved are "making giant steps forward" in talking about the code of conduct, a stronger document compared to the non-binding 2002 Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea.

Cayetano also noted that claimants are making progress on talks about preserving marine life, allowing fishermen to continue livelihood in the area, having less navy and most coast guards and more cooperation among others.

"In any conflict around the world, you want peace and stability. So we welcome that offer, let's see how everyone's response. In cases like this, the response has to come from everyone," he said.

During the interview, he said the American president seems to "want" to have a better world in general. "He's going far and beyond the American first and just being there for America. He wants it to be a world of peace and stability and we thank him for that."

Trump during his visit to Vietnam was quoted as saying: "If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know.”

“I‘m a very good mediator and arbitrator,” Trump was quoted as saying.

AFP optimistic of peaceful ASEAN Summit

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 13): AFP optimistic of peaceful ASEAN Summit

While it is prepared for all eventualities, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) hopes that the ongoing ASEAN 2017 Summit will conclude without any incident.

"We look forward to a significant, successful, safe and secured conduct of the summit banking on the tedious preparations and many rehearsals we had with other agencies of government," AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said late Sunday.

The ASEAN 2017 Summit started on Saturday and will end on Tuesday. He added that all AFP units tasked for ASEAN duties and to support the police, are now in place.

"They were divided into units and given specific tasks. Our other units dedicated for the ASEAN are on standby for any contingencies," Arevalo pointed out.

The military official said they are relying on teamwork, cooperation, and interoperability of units with their counterparts to achieve the goal of ensuring that ASEAN ends without any untoward incident.

PRRD and Trump really hit it off: Andanar

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 13): PRRD and Trump really hit it off: Andanar

On the fourth day of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, the meeting of President Rodrigo Duterte and United States President Donald Trump was much awaited as any of the outcomes of the bilateral talks between the Philippines and other ASEAN member states.

During a surprise visit Monday at the ASEAN International Media Center (IMC) of the World Trade Convention Center in Pasay City, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar gave an impromptu interview to both local and foreign media covering the ASEAN meetings.

“The United States has always been there to support us,” Andanar said indicating a much better PH-US relations now with the Trump administration in place.

Andanar added, “I think the issue between President Duterte and the former President Barack Obama is a thing of the past. Of course, we are dealing with a different US administration now and you can see through the two leaders’ body language that they really hit it off.”

The communications chief emphasized that the United States has always been there to support the Philippines and it has demonstrated this recently by sending humanitarian aid and military drones during the Marawi City crisis to support government efforts to fight terrorism.

Andanar said the good relations between the two leaders began when President Duterte called to congratulate President Trump after winning in the elections.

Andanar described the US President as an iconic figure.

“Meeting him (Trump) in person you can see that he really loves the Philippines. President Trump was game and allowed us to take selfies with him before the Gala Dinner. He really took the time to talk to us,” he said.

According to Andanar, President Duterte will have a full day today and as chairman, he will be presiding over all the 10 meetings.

Although no details were yet released on what topics the two leaders might discuss during bilateral talks, Andanar indicated that the issue with North Korea might come up.

PH, China to set up WPS communication system

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 13): PH, China to set up WPS communication system

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the China Coast Guard have agreed to establish a communication system that will promote peace and security in the West Philippine Sea.

Both Coast Guards will create a hotline communication mechanism to ensure seamless communication among them.

China's Ministry of Transport through its Maritime Rescue Coordinating Council has offered a donation of hotline communication equipment which would provide round-the-clock real-time communication between the two agencies using radio communications and video conferencing.

Both Coast Guards have likewise agreed to observe the Declaration of Conduct of 2002 in South China Sea including applicable international laws, maritime conventions and the 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in a high-level security meeting.

Furthermore, the Chinese Coast Guard agreed to visit Philippine ports and vice versa. Both parties have also agreed to crack down on cross border maritime crimes and the transport of illegal drugs.

Both Coast Guards will also conduct security and law enforcement trainings and exercises.

“The Philippine Coast Guard and the China Coast Guard has entered a new dawn of cooperation by fostering a new era of partnership, cooperation and good neighborliness through shared destiny with the end view of promoting shared maritime interests of both countries,” the PCG said in a statement.

The development was an offshoot of maritime exercises attended by key Philippine Coast Guard officials in Zhanjiang, China from October 30 to November 2.

The Philippines and China were previously involved in a string of skirmishes in the region, including a tense standoff at the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, which led Manila to file a diplomatic protest against Beijing.

The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration last year ruled in favor of the Philippines, rejecting China's sweeping claims to the resource-rich waters. Beijing, however, has refused to recognize the ruling.

Tensions between the two countries have eased under the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has adopted a friendlier stance towards China in pursuit of improved economic ties.

Trump affirms 'great' ties with Duterte in 1st bilateral meeting

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 13): Trump affirms 'great' ties with Duterte in 1st bilateral meeting

The much anticipated bilateral meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and United States President Donald Trump on Monday started with the latter reaffirming the “great relationship” of Manila and Washington.

The two already met each other at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vietnam last Nov. 11, but the bilateral meeting held in the Coconut Palace, Pasay City, was the first since Duterte was elected in May 2016 and Trump was sworn into office in November last year.

“We’ve had a great relationship,” the US leader told Duterte. “This has been very successful.”

On behalf of the leaders and delegates who participated the special gala celebration of the 50th ASEAN anniversary on Sunday night, Trump extended his appreciation to the Philippines as host of this year's meetings.

“We very much appreciate the great treatment that you have given. I thought last night’s event was fantastic, tremendous talent," he said.

According to Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano, the bilateral meeting between Duterte and Trump will focus on strengthening security cooperation and increasing trade, as the two countries explore possibilities of entering into a free trade agreement.

"(It would be) three things. One is strengthening the ties between the US and the Philippines, two, strengthening the security cooperation and three, increase trade between the two countries possibly in consensus to study a free trade agreement."

On security, both countries are set to discuss measures against trafficking, anti-illegal drugs efforts and anti-child pornography.

Cayetano added that discussions on eradicating violent extremism and terrorism would surface, particularly on intelligence sharing, gathering and analysis.

"I cannot further tell that dahil nanonood din ng news yung mga terorista," he said.

Cayetano noted that the two leaders would be building on its longstanding relations and existing cooperations built through the years.

Cayetano stressed the improvement of US-Philippines relations.

"There is no doubt there is ill feeling, there were hills and valleys in our relationship with US especially at the latter end during the Obama administration but it's been repaired and it's beeng strengthened with President Trump," he said.

"The diplomacy in the end is also personal relations that's why if the administration officials don't get along but the people to people ay malakas, malakas pa rin yung relationship but if the people don't get along but the leaders get along, they can manage to strengthen it," he said.

Marawi, the drone war

From GMA News Online (Nov 11): Marawi, the drone war

Codenamed Skywalker, the young lieutenant was delicately guiding his drone around a building when he spotted his quarry, men dressed in black making their way inside the same structure his Scout Ranger unit were about to enter.

Without taking his eyes off the screen and with both hands firmly clutching the remote control, he barks an order to his assistant to relay an urgent message - enemies spotted, abort the building entry!

On the other side of Marawi, a group of men huddles together as they watch the white DJI Phantom 4 slowly rise up in the air.

Shouting Allahu Akbar, the men cheer as the operator does a punch out - the commercial quadcopter launching off at great speed towards the sky until it can barely be seen.

At the Lanao del Sur provincial capitol, another huddle was quickly forming, this time composed mostly of women, their eyes straining to see a drone video of the main battle area from GMA reporter Sandra Aguinaldo’s five-inch phone screen.

The video showed buildings on fire, entire neighborhoods covered in thick black smoke, houses razed to the ground.

Behind them, the spokesman for the provinces’ crisis management committee was silently observing.

Suddenly he retreated to the back of the room. Holding back tears, he quickly left the room not wanting anyone to see his emotion.

On the small phone screen was the smoldering ruins of his ancestral home.

It was still standing based on a drone video the previous day. But now it’s gone.

Like many other homes inside the main battle area, the house he grew up in was burned to the ground.

This was Marawi City almost a month into the battle to drive out the terrorist group Maute-ISIS from the city.

For the next four months, Marawi would become a theater of war where commercial drones would play a crucial role, a first in the history of conflicts in the country.

After Sandra showed the drone footage I took to that small huddle of women at the provincial capitol, I posted it on my social media accounts.

And almost immediately, requests came pouring in.

“Please fly over Lumbak Madaya.”

“Can your drone go to Marinaut, i want to see our home.”

“Sir check Padian please, I beg you. You are our only hope of finding out what is going on [in] our place.”

There were too many inquiries that it was hard to keep up.

Besides, the military has started to restrict the flying of drones.

Fair warning, they told journalists covering the war, “We will shoot down any unauthorized drones we see flying over the MBA (main battle area).”

“We won’t be able to distinguish between a journalist's drone and a terrorist one. So if it's not ours, we will have to take it down,” a military officer explained.

“Even if we allow you,” the officer adds, “the terrorists will surely shoot down your drones too.”

But speaking with a Marine commander, he told me. “I don’t have a problem with you flying a drone into the MBA. Just make sure you don’t interfere with our operation and whatever footage you get, make sure my men’s operational security will not be compromised.”

As a drone flew over us from the 103rd Brigade headquarters overlooking the MBA, he says, “it's a risk you have to take, there’s a big possibility you will lose you drone.”

What is an added risk to an already risky coverage, I told myself. My drone is a personal property anyway. The risk was all on me.

Near a military checkpoint where I have been taking off since I arrived, a team of foreign journalists were also taking a risk.

We all wanted the same footage, a video of what was happening inside the MBA.

For the entire duration of the war, journalists were barred from entering the main battle area. Occasionally, some were allowed in areas declared clear by the military.

But for the most part, journalists had to contend with observing the war from the highest available structure in the safe zone. Until that was also forbidden by the military.

It was for our own safety according to them.

But a military officer frankly admitted, they didn’t want the image of destruction splashed all over the news. It's bad publicity, he explained, especially those taken by drones showing the wide swathe of destruction in the Islamic City.

Using drones, it turns out, was the safest way for us to cover and to continue our commitment of responsibly informing the public of what was really happening in Marawi.

I bumped into the same foreign news team a couple of days later.

“We lost our drone over the lake”, they told me. “We didn’t know what happened, it just went down,” their local fixer said.

“We will try to retrieve it. We were not able to download the previous days' videos before it went down,” the drone operator said, a look of frustration written all over his face.

That's when it hit me, the risk was all too real.

But for Skywalker, the risk was worth every centavo of the mid-priced commercial quadcopter.

A combat officer in Basilan, he was charged with operating the drone for the battalion’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operation when they arrived in Marawi.

Battle-tested as a marksman, Skywalker never flew a drone before.

After only a couple hours of practice, he flew his first drone ISR mission.

It went out without a hitch. But he was flying a hundred meters off the ground, not much danger out there except for the wind, but not much to be seen down below either.

A couple more weeks of flying and he was cruising at sixty to fifty meters above the city, men in black running from building to building now more clearly visible in his small smart phone monitor.

Gaining confidence everyday, he was soon directing tank maneuvers to hit enemy targets based on what he was seeing - a real time intelligence information in the battlefield once reserved only to more advanced foreign military units.

Like his brothers-in-arms in the US Special Forces, who were inside Camp Ranao, the 103rd Infantry Battalion headquarters in Marawi.

The US personnel arrived with boxes of hi-tech equipments to aid Philippine military commanders with vital battlefield information.

But the Americans were not only relying on their advanced fixed wing unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs.

The US Special Forces were also utilizing the same commercial quadcopter that Skywalker was using.

For a moment, the Scout Ranger felt, he was at par with his US counterparts.

But the steady buzzing sound of a P-3 Orion spy plane high above the city was a realization, the Armed Forces of the Philipines is still way behind in military hardware.

But what they lack in equipments, the Scout Rangers made up for in skill and intuition.

On one of his missions, Skywalker was flying low to spot where the sniper fire was coming from when he saw a flash of light.

Realizing his drone was being targeted by the sniper, he immediately jerked the control to steer the drone away from the source of the flash.

With light traveling faster than a speeding bullet, a split second was all he needed.

But looking at his monitor, he saw the drone wobble. He immediately landed his quadcopter.

Inspecting the small drone, he saw what caused the aircraft to shake.

The bullet grazed one of the propellers, a scratch visible on the plastic props.

But his drone was safe. More importantly he learned exactly where the enemy sniper was positioned.

Wasting no time, Skywalker ordered an artillery strike, silencing the terrorist shooter. Only then was their battalion able to advance to their next objective.

But drones from other units were not as lucky.

Perhaps as many as 10 commercial drones being flown by the military may have gone down during the five-month military operation, according to Skywalker.

Most the result of enemy fire, some by accident and at least one because of friendly fire, he amusingly admits.

Towards the end of the military operation, their drones ruled the skies over Marawi, freely cruising above the ruins.

And so when Skywalker started filming what seemed to be just another body retrieval operation of enemies killed on October 16, he didn’t know he was filming history.

Noticing troops dragging two lifeless bodies near a tank, he went lower. The early morning light barely illuminating the area, he saw the soldiers urgently load the two bodies onto the waiting tank.

His drone was still in the air when the tank stopped in front of their advanced command post and its heavy doors swung open.

An excited scream from their battalion ex-o said it all... “we got two possible HVI’s (high value individuals), one of them could be IH (Isnilon Hapilon).”

A few hours later, the military made the confirmation, terrorist leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute are dead.

The very next day, the president announced Marawi was free from the terrorist group.

That historic moment may have been unforgettable for Skywalker and his unit.

But the Scout Ranger says, the more memorable moments of his entire drone experience were the countless times he was able to warn his buddies of impending danger and reporting exactly where the enemies were before they can even strike.

As their eye in the sky, he says, whenever he took off, he felt a huge responsibility for the safety of his unit than at any other times in his young military career.

Skywalker eventually logged more than 500 hours of flight time, flying up to 15 times a day in the operation to retake Marawi, making him arguably one of the most experienced drone operators in the country.

Not much is known about the drone operation of the terrorist group, except for a few footages posted on social media showing the drone punch out and a propaganda video made by ISIS posted on their media website.

The video showed parts of Marawi smoldering as the drone passed by the minarets of the Grand Mosque.

Another showed a downward view of a neighborhood burned to the ground.

But just like the military, their drones were also being used to spy on enemy movements, according to Muhammad Ilham Syahputra, the Indonesian terrorist arrested while trying to escape Marawi last week.

When he was presented to the media, the terrorist claimed he was a drone operator and was tasked to monitor military maneuvers.

Gaunt, weak and starving, the Indonesian said for most of the last few weeks of the war, they had been hiding in basements and tunnels.

Being a drone operator, he must have known the dangers of being seen by the watchful eye of the military drones.

No doubt who won the drone war over Marawi.