Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ex-SAF chief, 3 others in P59.8-M allowance mess sacked

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Ex-SAF chief, 3 others in P59.8-M allowance mess sacked

A police general and three others have been relieved from their posts for their alleged involvement in the anomalies over the missing PHP59.8 million in allowances for members of the elite Special Action Force (SAF).

Director Benjamin Lusad, head of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations (DIPO) - Southern Luzon; Senior Supt. Andre Dizon, head of the Administration and Research Management Division of DIPO-Southern Luzon; Senior Police Officer 2 Mila Bustamante and Senior Police Officer 1 James Erica were relieved from their posts, PNP spokesman Chief Supt. John Bulalacao told reporters Tuesday.

Plunder and malversation complaints have been filed before the Military and Other Law Enforcement Office (MOLEO) of the Ombudsman against the four police officials.
Lusad was former SAF director while Dixon was the budget officer when the daily additional subsistence allowance of SAF commandos was not released while Bustamante and Erica were assigned at the SAF Finance Office.

The complaint stemmed from the SAF leadership's failure to give the PHP30 daily allowance of the SAF commandos from January 2016 to December 2017 despite receiving the fund from the PNP National Headquarters.

BI releases detained Aussie nun

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): BI releases detained Aussie nun

The Bureau of Immigration (BI) released from its custody on Tuesday afternoon Sister Patricia Fox, an Australian missionary.

She was apprehended in Quezon City on Monday.

Commissioner Jaime Morente approved the recommendation of the BI legal division for the Catholic nun to be released for further investigation after establishing that she is a holder of a valid missionary visa, which proved that she is a properly documented alien.

Fox submitted her passport and other immigration documents showing that she was issued her missionary visa on Oct. 15 last year and is valid until Sept. 9 this year.

In a note with recommendation to Morente, BI legal division head lawyer Arvin Cesar Santos noted that while Fox was alleged to have taken part in protest actions by farmers in the past, she was not doing so at the time when BI operatives served her the mission order.

Santos explained that Fox is not covered by inquest proceedings as it will only apply to aliens arrested after being caught in flagrant violation of immigration laws.

For her part, the nun noted that she did not join anti-government rallies but only protests advocating human rights.

“Not anti-government rallies, as a religious I’ve been joining pro human rights rallies for the farmers, for their land rights, to release political prisoners. So if you call it political, I call it part of our duty as religious that we support the poor, which is supposed to be where we’re standing with the poor,” Fox said after she was released from BI custody.

“I haven’t joined political rallies in terms of party politics, but I have been active in human rights issues,” she added.

On Monday, Fox was apprehended by BI operatives pursuant to a mission order issued by Morente due to reports that she violated the conditions of her stay by engaging in political activities and anti-government demonstrations.

DOJ: Fox's arrest legal

For his part, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra defended Fox's arrest by immigration authorities.

“We shall implement our immigration laws fairly and uniformly, without regard to color, race or creed,” Guevarra said.

The Justice Secretary reminded that “like any other foreigner enjoying the privilege of staying in our country, she has to obey and comply with our laws.

“Sister Patricia's case has nothing to do with her being a nun, nor with her personal advocacies,” the DOJ chief noted.

On Sunday, immigration authorities barred Party of European Socialist (PES) deputy secretary general Giacomo Filibeck, an Italian national, from entering the country for violating the conditions of his stay as a tourist when he came to the Philippines last year.

Filibeck came to the Philippines in October 2017 to attend a party congress of the Akbayan Partylist, a sister party of the PES where he criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

In August 2013, 20-year-old Dutch activist Thomas Van Beersum was deported after he made a police officer cry during a rally against former President Benigno Aquino’s State of the Nation Address.

In BI Operations Order No. SBM-2015-025 dated July 3, 2015, foreigners are prohibited from engaging in political activities in the country.


EDCA to allow PH, US to respond to regional security challenges

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): EDCA to allow PH, US to respond to regional security challenges

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States will allow both nations to approach evolving security challenges in the region.

This was stressed by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during the groundbreaking ceremony of the first EDCA warehouse project in Basa Air Base, Floridablanca, Pampanga Tuesday.

"The US-Philippines alliance is built on a strong foundation of shared values, sacrifices, and history. I know that EDCA is one of the sure ways to enhance our alliance and help promote peace and security in the region as it provides a framework through which both the Philippines and the United States will approach the evolving security challenges," he added.

Lorenzana also said EDCA would allow increase in training opportunities for the US and the Philippine forces beefing up the inter-operability of both militaries.

Aside from this, EDCA training will also permit Filipino and American forces to immediately respond to humanitarian crises affecting the Philippines.

"EDCA is a demonstration that our two nations are interested in long term solutions to shared problems. We are truly thankful that the EDCA supports our government’s goal of promoting the long-term modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) through development of certain facilities and bases such as this here in Basa. EDCA also helps the AFP in performing its roles in maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," the DND chief added.

Once completed, the EDCA warehouse in Basa Air Base will serve as storage area for equipment and other supplies that will aid in providing assistance to the Filipino people during times of crisis and disasters.

"The prepositioning of equipment and supplies in a consolidated location increases our ability to respond quickly. Hence, it is the Filipino community that will ultimately benefit from this project which is not only a testament to our countries’ commitment to having a stronger alliance, but also to our desire to help one another grow capabilities together," Lorenzana added.

The United States is working closely with the Philippine government on future EDCA projects at five locations namely Cesar Basa Air Base, Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation, Lumbia Air Base, Antonio Bautista Air Base, and Mactan Benito Ebuen Air Base.

Finalized after eight rounds of talks that began in August 2013, EDCA, which was signed in April 2014, allows US troops access to designated Philippine military facilities, the right to construct facilities, and pre-position equipment, aircraft and vessels, but rules out permanent basing.


Guerrero hopes AFP would sustain internal, maritime security ops

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): Guerrero hopes AFP would sustain internal, maritime security ops

As he formally steps down from the military's top post, outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief-of-Staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero has expressed hope that operations aimed at improving the country's internal and maritime security would continue.

"Sa ngayon ang kinakailangan i-sustain lang (For now, we only have to sustain) what has been achieved in the past. In terms of stability (of our) operations (in) internal security and of course, (the) guarding of our territorial, maritime areas, we have plans in place,” Guerrero said in an interview Tuesday when asked on what operations his successor needs to continue.

“We have additional capabilities that would allow us to perform these missions," he added.

Guerrero, a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1984, formally leaves his post as AFP chief on Wednesday after 38 years of service in the military. He will turn over the position to Western Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, a member of PMA Class of 1985.

While serving as Eastern Mindanao Command head, Guerrero carried out the Community Support Programs, a key component of the military’s new operation plan, the Development Support and Security Plan Kapayapaan.

During his term as AFP chief, the concerted efforts of AFP units in focused military and intelligence operations resulted in the neutralization of 6,817 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) as of April 15, leading to the surrender of 6,709 rebels -- 723 regular NPAs and Sangay ng Partido sa Lokal members; 513 Militia ng Bayan; 712 underground organization members; and 4,761 mass supporters.

A total of 47 NPAs were also killed, while 61 others were apprehended in legitimate focused military operations. Some 288 assorted firearms were also seized from the rebels.

Intensified efforts against local terror groups and foreign fighters have also resulted in the neutralization of 457 various terror personalities, 81 of whom were killed, 280 were apprehended, and 96 surrendered.


China military planes land on PH reef

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 18): China military planes land on PH reef

AERIAL IMAGES Two Xian Y-7 Chinese military transport planes were spotted on Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) in these enlarged surveillance photos taken last Jan. 6 and given to the Inquirer by a source. It is believed to be the first known presence of military aircraft on the artificial island within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Security experts say fighter planes are likely to be deployed there eventually. Read more: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/165824/china-military-planes-land-ph-reef#ixzz5CycA6AsN Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Two Chinese military transport planes have been photographed on Panganiban Reef, marking the first reported presence of this type of aircraft in Philippine territory in the South China Sea and raising the prospect that China will base warplanes there.

Panganiban Reef — internationally known as Mischief Reef — is located within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea. The waters within this zone are known locally as West Philippine Sea.

Surveillance images taken on Jan. 6 showed two Xian Y-7 military transport planes 20 to 50 meters apart on the ramp near Runway 21 on Panganiban, one of seven reefs in the Spratlys that China has transformed into artificial islands with military capabilities.

The photos were given to the Inquirer by a source.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines declined to comment on the images. The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Inquirer checked the photos for modifications, but there appeared to be none.

It was unclear if it was the first ever presence of military aircraft on Panganiban Reef. It could not also be determined how long the planes had been there. Aerial photos of the reef dated Dec. 30, 2017, published by the Inquirer on Feb. 5, 2018, indicated no presence of airplanes.
China landed a civilian aircraft on Panganiban Reef on July 13, 2016, a day after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in a case brought by the Philippines and declared Beijing’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea invalid. It was as if China, which did not take part in the arbitration, was telling the court that it did not recognize its ruling.

Besides Panganiban, China has also transformed Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Zamora (Subi) and McKennan (Hughes) reefs into artificial islands.

A Chinese military aircraft landed on Kagitingan in 2016 reportedly to evacuate three ill workers to Hainan Island for treatment. There has been no confirmed presence of military planes on Zamora so far. Three of China’s artificial islands in the Spratlys have 3-kilometer runways.

The Hague court’s 2016 ruling says Panganiban Reef belongs to the Philippines. Part of the ruling says the reef, located about 232 km from Palawan, forms part of the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf, and China has violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights with its island-building in the area.

But China has refused to acknowledge the verdict and continues to insist it has sovereignty over almost the entire 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the South China Sea, which is crisscrossed by vital sea-lanes through which $5 trillion in global commerce passes every year and where islets, reefs and atolls are believed to be sitting atop vast energy reserves.

China to up the ante

“If they could land transports now, in the future they might want to land more provocative and destabilizing types of assets such as fighter jets and bombers. And over time, such consistent but creeping practice would become a fact, in effect dealing a fait accompli to Manila, should it choose to stay silent or downplay the issue, and it could become ‘routinized’ or ‘normalized’ operations for China,” Collin Koh, a research fellow at Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Maritime Security Program, told the Inquirer.

The Duterte administration has repeatedly played down the militarization of China in the South China Sea and if it continues to do so, “this could embolden Beijing to up the ante in the future,” Koh said.

“There must be certain calculations within the Chinese political elite circles that Manila is in Beijing’s pocket, because of President Duterte’s desire for rapprochement and quest for Chinese aid and investments, which thus conclude that they could possibly get away with further acts of militarization,” he said.

“There’s always also a concern about the American factor in the back of their minds, but they could have assessed that so long as the Duterte administration chooses to downplay these developments, there’s also nothing much the Americans can do,” he added.

‘Interesting revelation’

The landing of military transport planes on Panganiban Reef, he said, is an “interesting revelation,” and if the Philippine government has been aware of the presence of the military planes but refuses to raise it in public only highlights the administration’s desire to “not rock the boat with China” despite the ongoing talks on a code of conduct in the South China Sea with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Tensions between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea eased when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, put the Philippine victory in The Hague on the back burner, and began to court Beijing for aid and investment.

Last week, the President returned home from his third visit to China with $9.5 billion in investment and aid pledges from the Chinese government. Mr. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping also held talks for a possible joint exploration for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea.

The President said he did not take up the South China Sea dispute during his meeting with Xi because he believed it was “not the appropriate time.”

“Why should I ruin it? They are now offering joint exploration and from the mouth of the president of China, he said, then exploration, maybe we can be extra generous … I am not ready to sacrifice the lives of my policemen and soldiers for nothing. I’d rather talk about business. Let it float there, it cannot be stolen. But China is coming in, offering something,” he told reporters in Davao City early on Friday after arriving from China.

‘No giving up of claims’

Despite criticisms of the administration’s defeatist attitude toward China, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano insists the Philippines has not given up its claims in the South China Sea.

“[T]he prosperity of the Filipinos coming from China is not because we gave up sovereignty but because how we are dealing with issues of territorial claims and sovereignty. China has not asked us, and I can tell you this very honestly whether closed door or in open, they have never asked us to give up our claims. They have simply asked us to put some order in how we will discuss these claims and where we should discuss these claims,” Cayetano told journalists last week in Hong Kong, where the Philippine delegation proceeded after the Boao Forum for Asia on Hainan Island.

Cayetano said earlier that the Duterte administration held China to its “good faith” promise not to reclaim new features in the South China Sea.

“As of now, if we compare the Aquino administration strategy and the Duterte strategy, we simply are making do with a bad situation but we have stopped the bleeding. Meaning, we have stopped other claimants from getting new features, we have started discussion on the [code of conduct], we have jump-started relationship: people to people; cultural exchanges; educational exchanges; military to military. Yes we want to fight for what is ours but we don’t want a war. And no one in our region wants a war because no one will win,” he said.

Slow step of operations

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the presence of the planes on Panganiban Reef showed China had continuous operations in the area.

“This means they’re going there both by air and sea. It indicates full reach of their operations,” Batongbacal said in an interview.

This means, he said, the deployment of the cargo planes is just “another slow step” in their operations: “They will make it appear that it’s not threatening. They started out with cargo planes first, and they would say these are normal operations. We know they would do that eventually and it’s evident on their timetable.”

What should be watched out for, Batongbacal said, is the presence of fighter jets or bombers.

“If this happens, it means they are expanding their operations in their bases. Eventually this will be more frequent until it becomes permanent. Right now, [the transport planes are] either for construction people or military who operate the facilities. Maybe they’re part of the rotation,” he said.

Tense and busy week

It was a tense and busy week in the South China Sea last week with demonstrations of power by both China and the United States.

Xi presided over the largest maritime parade in the disputed waters on Thursday, with the participation of least 10,000 personnel, dozens of fighter jets, submarines, ships and aircraft, to show off China’s naval might.

The US aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Manila last Wednesday for a port visit. Before its stopover, it showed off its capabilities with flight deck operations in the South China Sea. It hosted a reception for Philippine government officials, military and business leaders on Friday night.

The United States, which has no claims in the South China Sea, has no official position in the disputes but has repeatedly asserted its right to freedom of navigation.

The Wall Street Journal last week reported that China had also started deploying communications and radar jamming equipment on Panganiban and Kagitingan, spurring suspicions that Beijing would use its bases on the two artificial islands to enforce its claims in the South China Sea.

Discovered by accident

Panganiban is within the Philippines’ EEZ but China has occupied it for decades. Before its transformation into the largest of the seven artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago, it was a small outpost that China claimed in the 1990s as a shelter for its fishermen.

“It was discovered by accident when I was national security adviser. A [Filipino] fisherman who escaped [from Chinese detention] told us about it,” Jose Almonte, who was national security adviser to President Fidel Ramos when China seized Panganiban Reef in 1995, told the Inquirer in an interview.

“They’ve been constructing for years. They’ve been there since early ’90s,” he said.

The Philippines rallied Asean for support in trying to shoo China away, but the economic dependence of some members of the bloc on China had stood in the way of unity within the grouping.

China started massive dredging operations on the seven reefs in the Spratlys in early 2014 in anticipation of an adverse ruling from the Hague court. In 2015, Xi said during his trip to Washington that China wouldn’t militarize the artificial islands.

‘Barangay of China’

For the Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, war is not an option. It doesn’t have to be, according to Almonte.

The Philippines, Almonte said, could mobilize world opinion, as “China, who wants to be a superpower, is sensitive to world opinion.”

“We should continue to uphold the decision of [the Hague court]. Of course, we can’t implement it because we have no armed forces. Even the [United Nations] can’t implement it. And America will not implement it even if they can. So we should campaign for world opinion,” he said.

“Here, America will help us because we are not creating conditions for them to go to war with China. If we want to campaign in the world, they will be with us,” he added.

“I’ve said this before in my speeches. There are only two forces that can solve the South China Sea dispute: China and world opinion,” he said.

But China will never do it and it is even willing to violate international law for its ambitious claims, he said.

“We have won in The Hague but they disregarded it. Duterte allowed them to go with it so you remove China,” he said.

Almonte also warned that too much cozying up to China could have its consequences, citing the struggle of Sri Lanka to repay its massive loans to China. It was forced to lease one of its ports to China for 99 years to be able to pay its huge debt, he said.

“If we do not manage properly the so-called opportunities provided by China in terms of loans, grants, we will become a barangay (village) of China,” he said.

Almonte described the South China Sea as the “maritime heartland of Southeast Asia.”

“Anybody who controls [the South China Sea] will control the peripheral countries. Anyone who controls the peripheral countries will control the Southeast Asia region. Who controls the Southeast Asia region will [have] influence in [the] Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific [regions],” he said.


The Philippines stands up a true Special Operations Command for the first time

From SOFREP (Apr 17): The Philippines stands up a true Special Operations Command for the first time (By Jack Murphy)

Last year, SOFREP paid a visit to the Philippine Special Operations Command located at Fort Magsaysay to conduct interviews with Scout-Rangers and Special Forces soldiers. The third unit present was the Light Reaction Regiment, a unit that tries to fly under the radar, their actions often attributed to other units in the press. These gentlemen had to be interviewed in a more informal setting. The Philippine Special Operations Command harnesses the power of these three units to work together, a must when dealing with the myriad of threat groups that their country faces in extremely challenging terrain, a urban and jungle archipelago consisting of thousands of islands.

As well meaning and as skillfully executed as Philippine SOCOM was, there were some glaringly obvious omissions from the command. The Armed Forces of the Philippines have been greatly influenced by the United States military, and sure enough, American Special Forces advisors were at Fort Magsaysay the day SOFREP visited. America’s SOCOM was created in the wake of the 1980 Operation Eagle Claw, a failed mission to rescue US citizens held hostage in Iran as well as Operation Urgent Fury, the successful invasion of Grenada in 1983. Both combat operations exposed interoperability issues, particularly between the separate services of the military.

In order to conduct successful Special Operations missions, America had to get a whole lot better at working in a joint environment. The result was the creation of SOCOM in 1987, established by the Nunn-Cohen amendment and the Goldwater-Nichols Act. It was a pivotal moment of US Special Operations which brought Army units like Delta Force, the Ranger Regiment, and Special Forces under the same roof as Navy SEALs and Special Boat Teams, along with Air Force aviation assets, and many years later Marine Corps Special Operations.

The omission in Philippine SOCOM was the other branches of service, it was a SOCOM that included only the Army. In interviews with Philippine SEALs, who fall under NAVSOG, they expressed a strong desire to join a joint services SOCOM that included them. The SEALs had been working jointly with their Army counter-parts in combat for many years and wanted to make the union official. Virtually all of the Army SOF soldiers interviewed reflected the same point of view. The time had come.

The creation of a AFP-wide SOCOM was a long standing dream of General Danilo Pamonag who previously commanded the Light Reaction Regiment and the previous Army-only version of SOCOM. Pamonag always deeply believed in the importance of joint operations and the power of mutually supporting Special Operations units. The development took some time, but that dream has finally come to fruition with the previous Army SOCOM now disbanded and all assets being transferred to the new AFP SOCOM.

Perhaps the most important and practical development for the troops on the ground is a single streamlined logistical network. In conversations with the lead logistician officer at SOCOM last year, he explained how incredibly difficult it was to keep all of the units in the field supplied due to him having limited aircraft which had to fly across the entire stretch of the Philippine archipelago. Combat re-supply will now be far easier with the various services working in conjunction with one another. An AFP wide SOCOM will also greatly streamline the weapons and equipment procurement process for all the units involved.

In years past, some Philippine Special Operations soldiers have felt that they are over-employed, being used to resolve any and all situations. Others have felt that they are mis-employed, used in a manner not consistent with their training, capabilities, and mission. AFP SOCOM will help correct this. It will also mean that Philippine SOF will now be commanded by a higher ranking General, one who has more clout to compete for resources within the Armed Forces.

“Overall, I think it is high time we do this and it is an efficient way of improving our capabilities as a force,” a Philippine Special Operations officer told SOFREP when asked about this new development.

[Featured Image: Philippine Navy Special Operations Group, who took part in the battle against Muslim militants in the besieged city of Marawi in southern Philippines, flash the “V” sign upon disembarking from the Philippine Navy amphibious ship BRP Tarlac upon arrival Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. Philippine troops begun scaling down their forces following the liberation of Marawi from the IS-linked militants. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez]


What’s in the New Philippines Special Operations Command?

From The Diplomat (Apr 13): What’s in the New Philippines Special Operations Command?

A closer look at the significance of a new development.
What’s in the New Philippines Special Operations Command?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Presidential Communications Office

On Sunday, the Philippines’ military chief announced that the country had officially moved forward with unifying the special operations units of its major services under a consolidated command. The disclosure of the move, which had been mulled, illustrates ongoing efforts by the Southeast Asian state to change how it operates in the wake of new and growing security challenges.

As I have been noting in these pages, a series of security challenges that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been facing over the past few years, including the Zamboanga City attack back in 2013 and the siege of the southern city of Marawi in 2017, has led to some rethinking within the military about how it operates (See: “Battle for Marawi Exposes Philippine Military’s Intelligence Crisis”). One aspect of that has been how the AFP organizes itself for kinds of security operations it is involved in.

Over the weekend, in a sign that at least some of this thinking is translating into action, local media outlets reported that AFP Chief of Staff General Rey Leonardo Guerrero announced the activation of a new AFP Special Operations Command (AFPSOCOM). AFPSOCOM, which came into effect on April 6, will function as an integrated command of special operations unit from all major services that will he headquartered at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province.

The idea of such an integrated combatant command itself is far from new. As an example, the United States, with which the Philippines maintains a formal military alliance, officially activated its own U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) as a unified combatant command back in 1987. That came after a series of events, including the failed rescue of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1980, led to some rethinking on that front.

Practically, the formation of AFPSOCOM simply means that it would take command and supervision of the now deactivated SOCOM under the Philippine Army, along with Special Operations Wing of the Air Force; the Naval Special Operations Group; Scout Ranger Regiment, Special Forces Regiment and Light Reaction Regiment of the Army; and the Joint Special Operations Group of the General Headquarters. Major General Ronnie Evangelista, the former commander of the Army’s SOCOM since January, has been moved on now to be the head of AFPSOCOM.

The establishment of AFPSOCOM is not an insignificant development. Having an integrated command structure can help foster interoperability between different units that could help boost their ability to confront security challenges, particularly in joint operations involving special forces. Indeed, Guerrero himself cited his own experience in the Eastern Mindanao Command as being a factor in seeing a personal need for a joint SOCOM. Indications are that defense officials envision AFPSOCOM as fostering exactly this kind of interoperability through a series of endeavors including training and exercises.

Yet Guerrero was probably going a bit too far when he said that he expected “that all of the gaps and challenges” encountered in joint operations involving special forces to be addressed by the activation of AFPSOCOM. The gaps and challenges that the Philippines military faces are significant, and they involve not only the way it is organized, but everything from how it is resourced to the procedures it has in place to the cultures among the the different services. Though we have yet to see much in the way of publicly released specifics, an integrated command is no silver bullet for addressing these manifold concerns.

Nonetheless, AFPSOCOM is a move in the right direction in addressing one piece of the challenge the Philippines faces. That is a good start, as well as an encouraging sign that the Philippines is slowly moving forward on operationalizing some of the measures mulled following changes in the regional security environment.

Gov’t troops encounter NPAs in San Carlos City

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 17): Gov’t troops encounter NPAs in San Carlos City

A firefight between government troops and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas broke out in Barangay Guadalupe, San Carlos City Monday morning.

Soldiers from the 79th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army were conducting security patrol at around 8 a.m. when they chanced upon at least 30 armed men believed to be members of the NPA.

Lt. Col. Emelito Thaddeus, commanding officer of the 79th IB, said the armed men fired shots at troops, triggering a shootout that lasted for about 20 minutes.

Thaddeus said no one was hurt on the side of the government, while it was not immediately known if someone from the other side was killed.

Various items, such as solar panel and subversive documents, were recovered from the encounter site, said Thaddeus.

“The area had a good supply of water and a strong signal for communication,” said Thaddeus.

Thaddeus said the 79th IB has been patrolling the area due to the persistent complaints of the residents that members of the NPA have been conducting extortion, harassment and recruitment of minors in the hinterlands of the city.

“The reports that we are getting from the citizens are clear indications that they against the NPA,” said Thaddeus.

Thaddeus added that the 79th IB is conducting combat operations in the first, second and third districts of Negros Occidental to suppress insurgency and terrorism.


Family asks Army to surface missing NDFP consultant and husband

From the often pro-Communist Party of the Philippines online publication the Davao Today (Apr 17): Family asks Army to surface missing NDFP consultant and husband

Chira Lou Vicente appeals to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to surface her brother, New People’s Army (NPA) fighter Jerwel Domingo and his wife National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Lora Manipis who have been missing since February 24. (Mark Joy G. Basallajes/davaotoday.com)

Families of missing National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant called on the military to surface Lora Manipis and New People’s Army (NPA) member Jerwel Domingo who were last seen in Kidapawan City, February this year.

Chira Lou Vicente, sister of Jerwel Domingo, accompanied by Aunt Rachel Española sought help in finding their relatives.

They said they did not know that Domingo is a member of the New People’s Army and only learned about it after they saw a Facebook post regarding Domingo and his wife who are missing.

“He left home in 1998. He said he would look for a job in Davao City, but after that, we didn’t know where he went,” said Rachel Española in a press conference on Tuesday.

They said they didn’t have any contact with Domingo for 20 years after he left home at Lebak, Sultan Kudarat. He came from a family of farmers and is the second of four siblings.

Española said she wants to know the whereabouts of Domingo and his wife. They also understand the risk Domingo took in joining the communist movement but they are still hoping that the two are still alive.

“I beg you [military], please let him live,” said Vicente.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Far South Mindanao issued a statement on April 8, demanding the immediate surfacing of its consultant Lora Manipis and husband Jeruel Domingo who has been missing since February 24.

In their statement, the NDFP-FSMR said it holds the Duterte administration accountable for the couple’s disappearance.

Manipis and Domingo are supposed to arrange activities related to the peace process, including a consultation with farmers on the issue of open-pit mining of Sagittarius Mines in Region 12.

According to reports gathered by Karapatan SOCSKSARGEN, Manipis and Domingo went to Kidapawan City last February 23 on board a motorcycle to arrange the transportation. At around 6 pm they got off along the main street in Kidapawan in front of One Network Bank. They asked a motorcycle driver to negotiate for a public utility Toyota Hi-ace van from the Overland Terminal, to bring them to Kabacan, North Cotabato.

That was the last time the two of them were seen.

Earlier the chief of the Division of Public Affairs Office (DPAO) of the 10th Infantry Division Captain Jerry Lamosao denied the accusation of the NDFP that they are responsible for the enforced disappearance of the couple.


ARMM launches program vs. violent extremism

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 17): ARMM launches program vs. violent extremism

Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on Tuesday led the launch of a holistic approach program that seeks to end violent extremism and bring about peace in the region.

Known as the Program Against Violent Extremism (PAVE) for Peace, it was officially launched at the headquarters of the Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion in Barangay Cabunbata, this city.

Hataman said PAVE for Peace was conceptualized based on the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte “to talk all” especially to those misguided individuals who wanted to return to the folds of the law.

Initially, 139 members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) from this province will benefit from the program. They recently surrendered to the government in separate occasions.

Most of them joined the ASG to protect their families from their rival clan or “rido” and not because of ideological beliefs.

“Those with pending cases and without clearance from the security forces cannot benefit from the program,” Hataman clarified.

He said they would also reach out to the victims of atrocities committed by the ASG for the success of the program and to achieve a lasting peace.

“I believe that those who committed crimes should be made answerable for their acts. But at the end of the day justice and peace is for all. Somebody should sacrifice to achieve lasting peace,” he said, citing they too have families who were beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

“The victims who filed cases will also be addressed by the concerned agencies (of government),” Brig. Gen. Juvymax Uy, Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade commander, said.

“We should find solution to address the problem unless it will continue to exist,” Uy said.

Hataman said the PAVE for Peace program would involve all agencies of government to holistically address the problem on violent extremism.

Part of the program is to provide sustainable livelihood to the surrenderers since several of them joined the ASG for monetary consideration due to poverty.

The objectives of the program are to prevent returnees from going back; provide an opportunity to start anew; encourage more ASG members to surrender; provide an avenue for healing and increase grassroots support to countering violent extremism.

The launching program was graced by top military and police officials as well as cabinet secretaries of ARMM and non-government organization representatives.


ASG extortionists lob grenade at DPWH bodega

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 17): ASG extortionists lob grenade at DPWH bodega

Suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), believed to be involved in extortion, lobbed and exploded a hand grenade at the warehouse of the Department of Public Works and Highways in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, (DPWH-ARMM) in Isabela City Monday night.

DPWH-ARMM District Engineer Soler Undug said unidentified persons threw the grenade which exploded on the roof of the DPWH-ARMM warehouse located in Purok 4, Barangay Aguada in Isabela City.

Undug said the incident happened at around 7:30 pm, Saturday. No one was reported injured as a result of the incident.

Police and military authorities, who rushed to the explosion site, recovered the safety lever pin and fragmentation parts of MK2 type grenade.

The police said the roof of the warehouse sustained minor damage as a result of the explosion.

Early this year, suspected ASG detonated an Improvise Explosive Device (IED) outside the residence of Undug.

The IED exploded on the perimeter fence of Undug’s residence located on Calle Bisaya in Isabela City.

Authorities also found an IED planted at the fence of the residence of DPWH-ARMM Basilan assistant district engineer Salonga ‘Bong’ Lasatan, located at the village of Aguada, which was few meters away from the residence of Undug.


Galvez: WestMinCom stays in Zambo

From the Zamboanga Today Online (Apr 16): Galvez: WestMinCom stays in Zambo

Incoming Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez has vowed to keep the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) headquarters in Zamboanga City.

Galvez assured officials of the city that Westmincom will stay in the city because the facility it is situated in a very strategic location in Mindanao.

“I promise our officials here that while I am still in the service, Westmincom will stay in Zamboanga City because this is the most strategic location in Mindanao.”
Galvez issued the assurance during the testimonial dinner tendered to him by Congressman Celso Lobregat at the La Vista del Mar.

According to Galvez, there are proposals calling for the transfer of Westmincom to another area in Mindanao, however, he expressed opposition to the plan.

He said that Zamboanga City is close to his heart because he was already here from the year 2000 when he was commander of the First Scout Ranger Battalion, until he became the 104th Brigade commander in Baslilan Province.

The outgoing Westmincom chief will officially sit as AFP chief of staff on April 28, 2018.

His sterling performance during the five-month Marawi siege was one of the reasons President Rodrigo Duterte chose him to head the armed forces.

He said there was a move to send one battalion from Westmincom to Marawi but he refused saying this will create a vacuum and will also endanger the security of the city.
“There was a move to pull out one battalion from Zamboanga City to Marawi, but I refused because Zamboanga has already suffered twice. The first was the Cabatangan and followed by the 2013 siege,” Galvez said.

Lobregat commended Galvez for his achievements in maintaining peace and order not only in the city, but he whole Western Mindanao.

He said under the term of Galvez, more than 200 Abu Sayyaf bandits have surrendered and kidnapping cases have also decreased under his area of jurisdiction.

150 Lumad peace volunteers graduate

From the Sun Star-Davao (Apr 16): 150 Lumad peace volunteers graduate

SOME 150 indigenous people (IP) peace volunteers completed their training on protecting their communities at Sitio Batiano, Barangay San Pedro, Caraga, Davao Oriental last Saturday, April 14.
Lieutenant Colonel Jake Obligado, commander of the 67th Infantry Battalion, acknowledged the significant contribution of the community in protecting their lands against atrocities perpetrated by the New People’s Army.
“Yong mga proseso natin makikita naman natin kung saan yong mga far flung areas, vulnerable areas, so in collaboration with the indigenous people’s mandatory representatives, the local chief executive, the mayors and the barangay captains, more importantly the tribal chieftains because they feel that their communities are vulnerable so therefore we need to strengthen them,” Obligado said in an interview.
He added that when there is weak governance, the enemy is strong and where there is good and strong governance, the enemy will be nowhere to be found. Obligado said that they already have around 700 peace development volunteers recorded in the first district of Davao Oriental except Tarragona from Manay, Caraga, Bangaga, Cateel, Boston, and Lingig in Surigao del Sur.
  “We are counting for more. There are a lot of barangays already who are requesting for the same kind of activity and if ever matapos it may reached to 3,000,” he said.
He also downplayed accusation that they are making an army out of IP communities explaining that they are just helping these IP communities to build strong community to defend themselves, to implement the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) law and enforce their customary laws.
“We are just strengthening the indigenous political structure. We are just strengthening the customary laws. We are just an instrument to empower them. They are already empowered but they need more empowerment,” he cited.
The peace volunteers underwent a five-day training which was divided into modules including livelihood program, government in action, people empowerment and responsibility awareness.
They were trained on disaster preparedness and how to properly deploy whenever there are threats from outside forces.
“The bottom line of all of this is teaching the community how to become the citizen,” he said.
These areas were identified as the mobility corridors of the enemy, the vulnerable communities wherein the enemies used to extort and kidnap people.
He also challenged the other tribe to stand for their communities similar to what the Mandaya tribe has been doing and to strengthen their indigenous political structure and respective Certificate of Ancentral Domain Title.
Since they started this program last April 2017, the 67th IB has recorded the rebels’ manpower to decrease to 100 from 290 back in February 2017, a decrease of almost 70 percent.
“The immediate effect of this is the reduction of the manpower of the New People’s Army, the reduction of the firearms and the clearing of barangays. We are almost 100 percent in clearing our barangays here and also with this effect, the impact would be very significant,” he said.
Their battalion, he said, has recorded zero atrocities committed by the NPA and a number have already surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines since July. 

Negotiations with NDF back on track — Dureza

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 17): Negotiations with NDF back on track — Dureza

The peace negotiations between government (GRP) and National Democratic Front of the Philippines are back on track with Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (PAPP) Secretary Jesus Dureza saying they will resume the stalled fifth round of talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) sooner than the 60-day timeline set by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Presidential Adviser on Peace Adviser Sec. Jesus Dureza
(Keith Bacongco / MANILA BULLETIN)

“I think we are back on track,” Dureza said.

The fifth round of GRP-NDFP peace talks was aborted for the second time just two days before it would resume on November 25 to 27, 2017, with Proclamation 360 of President Rodrigo R. Duterte “for lack of sincerity,” following an NPA ambush on November 9 that killed a four-month-old Walysha Manchorao, and similar incidents.

The President subsequently signed Proclamation 374, designating the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, New People’s Army, as terrorist organizations.

Dureza acknowledged that dealing with communist insurgents militarily cannot help attain sustainable peace.

“You cannot kill all of them and you cannot kill an idea, you cannot kill a revolutionary idea. They will still carry on even if you eliminate some of the ideologues. You have to address the root cause of why they are rebelling government,” he said.

Dureza said GRP found difficulty in dealing with the communists because of differences in beliefs, including their refusal to honor the 1987 Philippines Constitution while the GRP must strictly follow its provisions, but he added the peace talks are about finding a convergence point of the “two very divergent positions” and close the gap between the two parties.

He said the NPA members must stop the extortion activities and the attacks against government and civilian properties, as the President expressed interest to sign agreements with NDFP despite the objection of the military which “wanted to confront them physically.”

“He (Duterte) wants to provide to them all of those favorable accommodation, but then he said, ‘Why are they still attacking our people? Why are they still burning equipment? Why are they still extorting?’ He said, ‘I will continue talking to you but stop first actions that will make you traitors in the eyes of the public,’”Dureza added.

Both parties will still have to thresh out the three remaining Comprehensive Agreements on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), dubbed as the “heart and soul” of the peace negotiations, Political and Constitutional Reforms (CAPCR), and End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces.

The GRP and NDFP negotiating peace panels had already agreed on three common drafts on general amnesty and release of all political prisoners in compliance with 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL); coordinated unilateral ceasefires, and part I of ARRD and part II of NIED.

Respect Mayor Sara’s decision

Dureza said he respects the statement of Mayor Sara Duterte who objected to the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace talks and urged her father to reconsider his pronouncement.

“I respect the statement of Mayor Sara because she knows why she has to say it but in this democracy, everyone is entitled to his opinion. She has a task to do as a mayor to protect the citizenry of Davao,” he added.

He said they welcome those statements because they “provide a more vigilant environment as we continue with the negotiations.”

Also, Duterte condemned the NPA for burning 10 heavy construction equipment worth P65 million in a series of attacks in Calinan, Buhangin, and Paquibato Districts, this city, on March 31 and April 1.

Carpio said the burning delayed the construction of roads and hampered the development of the communities in the affected areas.

“While I trust the wisdom of the President and his intention to end the insurgency problem peacefully, I believe pursuing peace talks with the NDFP-CPP-NPA is counterproductive and plainly useless,” she said in a statement issued last Friday.

Faster and quicker

Dureza said there would be no shortcuts to “this work for peace” but he believes there will be a “faster and quicker pace in the outcomes” in the peace negotiation under the Duterte roadmap seeking to deal with insurgency problem through the peace negotiation and, at the same time, bringing development to the conflict-affected communities.

The presidential adviser said before the cancellation of the fifth round, both parties agreed to create a body, chaired by NDFP consultant Luis Jalandoni, who will be tasked to implement development projects in areas noted for communist insurgencies, copying the template of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in providing aid to conflict-affected communities through the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA).

The BDA “determines, leads and manages relief, rehabilitation, and development projects in the conflict-affected areas and to implement projects jointly with the Philippine government.”

Dureza, who emphasized the need to extend programs to communities to allow the people to benefit from the dividends of peace, said they would take up again the mechanism on how both parties can collaborate in providing socio-development program.

“The nexus should be development and peace. Peace cannot be sustained if there is no progress or development in the lives of people, and vice versa,” he said. “Now, we are back hoping to pick up the pieces again. This will be the last. We’ll have to already quickly come up with agreement.”


Bulatlat: City councilor, lawyer, activists included in Negros town police’s poster of Reds

From the pro-Communist Party of the Philippines online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Apr 16): City councilor, lawyer, activists included in Negros town police’s poster of Reds

Photo from the National Federation of Sugar Workers Facebook page.

A councilor of the northern Negros Occidental city of Escalante, a lawyer who has longed worked with peasant and human rights groups, and a number of current and former leaders of activist groups were among more than 60 supposed communist rebels whose faces were printed on a police poster.

The National Federation of Sugar Workers issued an alert with a copy of the poster it said was being pinned up by the police force of the central Negros town of Moises Padilla.

The alert was released Monday, the same day human rights groups reported the arrest in Tarlac of Australian nun Patricia Fox, NDS, a volunteer with the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, by Immigration officers.

At the top of the poster is the message, “CNN PERSONALITIES, if seen in the area, please text 09099191720.”

CNN is the acronym used by state security forces to refer to members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Among the legal personalities whose faces are on the poster are Karapatan-Negros secretary general Clarizza Singson, Zara Alvarez of the Negros Island Health Integrated Program, UMA secretary general John Lozande,NFSW secretary general Christian Tuayon, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-Negros secretary general Benjamin Ramos, Escalante Councilor Bernardino Patigas, Julius Dagatan, Ronald Evidente, Ma Rina Amacio, Rogina Quilop, Lary Ocena and Anecita Rojo.

A number of them are also included in the list of alleged rebels that forms part of the Department of Justice’s petition to have the CPP and NPA proscribed as “terrorist organizations.”

On the other hand, Amihan, the National Federation of Peasant Women, said Fox was arrested around 3 p.m. and is currently detained at the Bureau of Immigration’s intelligence bureau.

The group said the nun, who joined a recent international solidarity and fact-finding mission in Mindanao that was reported harassed and hounded by state forces, could be deported.

Fox’ arrest came a day after Giacomo Filibeck, deputy secretary-general of the Party of European Socialists, was barred from entering the country in Cebu, where he was scheduled to attend the congress of Akbayan.

Filibeck, who visited the country last year as a member of a human rights fact-finding mission that criticized the government’s bloody war on drugs, was informed he was on a blacklist order and deported.


4 injured in explosions in Maguindanao, Cotabato

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 17): 4 injured in explosions in Maguindanao, Cotabato

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao — Four persons were hurt in separate explosions that occurred Monday night in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces.

Map of Maguindanao (Credits: Google Map | Manila Bulletin)

Capt. Aldrin Encinas, head of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6ID) public affairs office, said a balut vendor was hurt when an improvised bomb went off around 6:40 p.m. along the vicinity of the rotunda leading to the 6ID camp in Barangay Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

He said the vendor, identified as Dairy Joy Arayo, 22, was tending to her goods not far from a carnival with his friend, Joel Samar, when a loud explosion occurred.

Arayo was hit by shrapnel in the body and was rushed to an infirmary inside the 6ID compound.

“The blast site is about 50 meters away from the first entry of the military camp that also houses the Cotabato airport,” Encinas said.

He said the bombing could be the handiwork of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who have suffered heavy losses in ongoing Army offensives in Maguindanao.

In Pikit, North Cotabato, three men in a drinking spree were hurt when two men aboard a motorbike tossed a hand grenade at 7 p.m. Monday in Barangay Kolambog.

Supt. Bernard Tayong, speaking for the North Cotabato police office, identified the injured victims as Jerry Cordova, 44, Leonardo Baclayon, 56 and Ariel Abrenica, 36, all farmers and residents of Barangay Kolambog.

Tayong said village officials rushed the victims to a district hospital in nearby Aleosan town in North Cotabato.

Police probers found shrapnel and fragmentation grenade components at the site of the blast. Tayong said personal grudge is initially being eyed at the Pikit incident.


Outgoing AFP chief Guerrero satisfied with accomplishments

From GMA News (Apr 17): Outgoing AFP chief Guerrero satisfied with accomplishments

Outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Rey Leonardo Guerrero on Tuesday said he is satisfied with what the military has achieved so far under his six-month leadership.

Guerrero, who is set to retire after 38 years in the military, said there still a lot to improve in terms of "systems and processes" of the AFP.

"Personally, I'm satisfied with what has been accomplished by the AFP under my stewardship," he said in an interview with reporters after the unveiling of marker and blessing ceremony of the Defense Press Corps office in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Asked on what else he would have done in the AFP, Guerrero said: "Organizationally, marami pang dapat i-improve sa systems and processes ng Armed Forces but I believe given yung initial steps, I already taken the initial steps to make sure that the next chief of staff would be able to follow through doon sa nasimulan."

As of April 15, a total of 6,817 New People's Army personalities were neutralized under his term as AFP chief through the focused military and intelligence operations.

Of this number, 6,709 have surrendered which is composed of 723 regular NPA's and Sangay ng Partido sa Lokal members, 513 Militia ng Bayan, 712 underground organizations members, and 4,761 mass supporters.

Forty-seven NPAs were also killed while 61 others were apprehended in "legitimate focused military operations." Seized from the NPAs were a total of 288 assorted firearms.

Terror groups

Aside from this, 457 members of local terror groups and foreign fighters were neutralized. Of this number, 81 were killed, 280 were arrested and 96 have surrendered.

It was also under the term of Guerrero when he was faced with a challenging task of rebuilding the war-torn city of Marawi which was liberated during the month he was installed at the helm of the AFP.

The military has so far found and disposed a total of 3,953 assorted unexploded ordnance (UXO) and 738 improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Seven out of nine sectors in the main battle area of Marawi have already been cleared from explosives, while the remaining two sectors are still being cleared.

The AFP said it was also under Guerrero's guidance that the military was able to strictly implement the campaign against loose firearms through utilizing the martial law in Mindanao as a total of 1,424 assorted loose firearms have been surrendered to government forces.

Lanao del Sur residents and officials have surrendered 81 firearms on March 24 and March 26 while 106 firearms were surrendered by local executives in Maguindanao last March 26 and 27.

Guerrero is set to turn over the AFP's top post in a change of command ceremony on April 18 to Galvez, who is the current commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom).

He was supposed to retire on December 17, 2017 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 56 but President Rodrigo Duterte extended his service for four months.

Duterte will lead the turnover ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo, where Guerrero will also be honored with a testimonial parade and review and awarded with the Philippine Legion of Honor.

In January, Duterte said that Guerrero will be the next administrator of Maritime Industry Authority.

Asked on his plans after his retirement, Guerrero said that he would "take a much needed restful sleep."

"I do not think I will be missing anything, 34 years of doing the same thing all over, palagay ko lang siguro magpahinga muna," he said.


The Philippines’ pivot to China

From the ASEAN Post (Apr 17): The Philippines’ pivot to China

China's President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte as they attend the welcome ceremony at Yanqi Lake during the Belt and Road Forum, in Beijing on May 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Roman Pilipey/Pool)

Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte recently returned from China bearing gifts. The president had signed nine business agreements when he was there.

“The nine business agreements signed during my visit yielded an estimated value of 9 to 8 billion dollars in investments. These are projected to generate more than 10,000 jobs for our countrymen and women,” Duterte said in his speech upon returning from China.

The president was in China last week to have a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping. He also spoke at the Boao Forum in Hainan which is considered to be Asia’s equivalent of the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland.

Aside from that, Rodrigo Duterte also made a stop in Hong Kong. To the surprise of many, the president issued a formal apology over the Manila tour bus hostage incident in 2010 when eight Hong Kong citizens were killed in a botched rescue operation. The apology was long overdue as previous presidents have refused to apologise for the incident.

However, some are questioning Duterte’s sincerity of the apology. The main issue with his apology is the suspect timing – coming after signing business deals with China – which some have considered to be pandering. While his intentions remain unknown thus far, what’s clear is that ties between the Philippines and China have never been closer.

Among the business deals signed between the two countries includes a loan agreement with China agreeing to help fund the construction of the Chico Pump Irrigation Project in Northern Luzon. The Philippines Ministry of Finance said that the loan agreement was worth US$62 million. Besides that, the Philippine government also secured a US$4.36 million grant from China that aims to modernise the Philippine’s hybrid rice centre.

Those agreements are part of five memoranda of understandings (MOU) that were signed between government officials in the presence of Duterte and Xi Jinping.

Ever since Duterte was elected into office, the relationship between the two nations have become increasingly closer. For Duterte, keeping a close relationship with China is essential as China’s deep pockets and generosity in the region could help fund Duterte’s massive “Build! Build! Build!” infrastructure projects.

Meanwhile, behind China’s magnanimity it has its own geopolitical agenda. Beijing is looking to seal a pact with Manila for a joint exploration in the South China Sea. The maritime features in South China Sea have been contested by multiple parties – including Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Satellite images found that China is quietly militarizing the Spratly Islands by building airstrips and military bases on the islands.

It’s also possible that China are trying to woo the Philippines away from the Americans, a historical ally of the Philippines. Previously a colony of the United States (US), the relationship between the two countries have always remained strong despite the relationship turning sour after Duterte’s comments in 2016 when he announced a “separation” from the US. Aside from providing the Philippines with plenty of foreign aid, the Philippines also receives military protection from the US.

The Philippines is a strategic ally of the US in the region to counter China’s growing influence. The Philippines is the only country in the region to have strong US military presence. Recently, American aircraft carrier the USS Theodore Roosevelt docked in Manila as a response to China’s naval muscle flexing in the South China Sea. US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim emphasised that the presence of the US in the Philippines is proof of the “unbreakable” alliance between the two countries.

With the trade war intensifying, the Philippines is put in a tough spot. While at the moment the trade war hasn’t affected it yet, Bloomberg reports that the Philippines would be among the most affected in Southeast Asia if the trade war continues.

Competition between China and the US is beneficial to the Philippines since it can liaise with both countries and gain maximum benefit from them. However, if tensions heighten, the Philippines may be forced to pick a side. And whichever side they choose, would have severe repercussions in their future.

Construction for PH-US EDCA military deal begins

From Rappler (Apr 17): Construction for PH-US EDCA military deal begins

(UPDATED) A groundbreaking ceremony is held at the Basa Air Base on Tuesday, April 17, attended by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Ambassador Sung Kim.

GROUNDBRREAKING: A multi-purpose warehouse will be built inside Basa Air Base in Pampanga, the first major project under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

GROUNDBRREAKING: A multi-purpose warehouse will be built inside Basa Air Base in Pampanga, the first major project under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

PAMPANGA, Philippines (UPDATED) – A military deal signed between the Philippines and the US in 2014 finally proceeds with the construction of the first facility in Basa Air Base in Pampanga in northern Luzon.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Tuesday, April 17, attended by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Ambassador Sung Kim.
The site will feature a multi-purpose warehouse that will primarily store assets for humanitarian assistance and disaster response, the current focus of the Philippines-US partnership.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is an agreement that allows the US military to construct facilities and pre-position defense assets inside Philippine military bases. (READ: What is EDCA? Look at Zambo's PH-US joint operations)
Lorenzana said the agreement shows how both countries are committed to "long term solutions to shared problems."
Kim said EDCA is a testament to the "continued dedication and commitment to our partnership and friendship." It's an "agreement between two sovereign nations, a pact between equals," he added.
Last year, the Armed Forces of the Philippines asked Congress for money to fund initial ground work to implement the agreement. (READ: PH military asks Congress for P124 million counterpart fund)

BASA AIR BASE. The Philippine Air Force base in Pampanga is host to the first facility under the PH-US EDCA agreement. Photo by Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler

Basa Air Base is one of 5 locations that had been previously identified as EDCA sites. The other 4 are the Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City, Camp Bautista in Palawan, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro.
EDCA was signed during the previous Aquino administration. It was envisioned to increase US presence in the Philippines as the country sought to deter Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
But the agreement was hounded by constitutional issues as critics said it is a "de facto basing agreement," which is not allowed under the 1987 Constitution. But the petitions were junked in the Supreme Court.

President Rodrigo Duterte, at the start of his administration, threatened to scrap EDCA along with the annual Balikatan war games. Relations between the two countries have since shown marked improvement.

The Balikatan exercises for 2018 will be held in May.

"I’m very pleased with the state of our alliance in general. Our exercises are continuing. Planning for Balikatan this year has been well underway fo rmany months now. I expect that it will be a very productive exercise this year as it was last year," Kim told Rappler.