Thursday, January 3, 2019

PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty review 'long overdue': expert

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3, 2019): PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty review 'long overdue': expert

A review of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States, a product of the Cold War that ended three decades ago, is "long overdue," an expert said Thursday.

"The MDT, originally directed versus China and Russia, is the mother treaty for the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) and EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement), bases and other forms of US military presence. Either we have an MDT with all big powers, or not have any with any power. The strategy is to be friends of all and to be an enemy of none," political science professor Roland Simbulan of the University of the Philippines said.

"A review of the MDT is long overdue since it was a product of the Cold War which has long ended for three decades," he told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana ordered the review of the 67-year-old MDT between Manila and Washington to assess if there is a need to maintain, strengthen, or abrogate the defense pact in view if its relevance to the country's national interest.

The MDT, signed in 1951, contains eight articles requiring the two Pacific allies to provide aid in case of an armed attack against either Washington or Manila by an external party.

In the past, Washington's commitment to the agreement had been put into question when tensions escalated between Manila and Beijing over its territorial row in the South China Sea.

Previously, Lorenzana said the agreement, signed more than 10 years before Filipino troops occupied claimed areas in the West Philippines Sea, does not cover the disputed territories. He added that the US government has also been "ambivalent" in the maritime row.

Committed to MDT obligations
While there is no specific reaction over Manila's move to look into the six-decade-old treaty, the US has maintained its commitment to the agreement.

In an e-mail sent to the PNA on Thursday, the US embassy’s press attaché, Molly Koscina, said, "We have a strong and robust security alliance with the Philippines, and the United States stands by its Mutual Defense Treaty obligations."

"As Ambassador Kim said on CNN Philippines on December 19, 'Our commitment to this alliance is absolute, it’s ironclad'," she said.

In a Twitter post Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the review is a "bit pointless" without the US bases in the Philippines.

However, it could be strengthened by including any "aggressive move" against Washington or Manila as a trigger to invoke the treaty.

"The MDT can be improved by making any aggressive move versus US or Philippines a trigger for all-out war without need of approval of either Congress. A good war sanctifies any cause," he said.

CPP-NPA members ageing, declining in numbers: Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4, 2019): CPP-NPA members ageing, declining in numbers: Palace

Membership in the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) is now ageing and declining in numbers as they fail to recruit young ones "without coercion or intimidation", Malacañang said on Thursday.

"Where in the past, they were able to mislead the best and the brightest amongst our youth, the latter has become more discernible," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

Panelo said the Palace is not surprised by CPP founder Jose Maria Sison's statement that the CPP-NPA's top priority in 2019 is ousting President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Panelo called this a "dream, illusion, and fantasy".

"The more Mr. Sison rants against the President, the more glaring his fantasies become. The more he makes predictions on the fall of the present government, the more believable is the suspicion that he is referring to the fall of the CPP/NPA/NDF (National Democratic Front)," he said.

Panelo said President Duterte has the support of a huge majority of Filipinos, making it impossible for an ouster plot to prosper.

"Mr. Sison claims that theirs is a revolution by the people but it is more of a wishful thinking, given that the very people he refers to is overwhelmingly supportive of the President," he said.

The latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that President Duterte enjoys the Filipinos' support as 74 percent of them are satisfied with the performance of his administration.

Panelo dismissed Sison's accusations of the President's interference in the 2019 midterm elections and called it "illusory".

He said President Duterte has no plans to stay in power longer.

"The President has already announced that there will be peaceful and orderly elections in May 2019, and he will stop any attempt to thwart it. PRRD pursues federalism because he believes that such system will improve governance in the local government units and accelerate economic growth and progress in the provinces. The President has repeatedly announced that he would step down from office once a federal form of government is established, showing his dislike to stay in power," Panelo added.

Panelo also denied Sison's allegations of "state terrorism" and stressed that the government is relentless in its fight against criminality.

"There is also no such thing as state terrorism, as maintained by Mr. Sison, but only state-applied measures to end the bloodshed and deaths of our fellow Filipinos engineered by the CPP/NPA/NDF," he said.

Panelo further debunked Sison's criticisms on the Duterte administration's socio-economic policies.

"The President and this Administration have been implementing policies that elevate the social and economic situation of the country, and this year is no exception as socioeconomic policies benefitting our people are already in the burner," he added.

PAF aircraft, personnel helping in 'Usman' relief efforts

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4, 2019): PAF aircraft, personnel helping in 'Usman' relief efforts

Philippine Air Force (PAF) aircraft and personnel are in the forefront of ongoing relief efforts for communities severely devastated by Tropical Depression Usman.

This was bared by PAF spokesperson Major Aristides Galang in a statement forwarded to reporters Thursday night.

"Humanitarian assistance and disaster response teams from the 505th Search and Rescue Group together with the help of the 220th Airlift Wing were actively conducting rescue and retrieval operations in all typhoon-hit areas mostly devastated by heavy landslides and flash floods in the Bicol area," Galang said.

He also noted that during the height of Usman's onslaught, disaster response teams from the Tactical Operations Group 5 and Tactical Operations Wing Southern Luzon were also deployed in the area for fast access and manning in the rescue operations with the use of M-35 trucks and rubber boats.

"Moreover, several aircraft were also utilized, such as the Super Huey, UH-1D and C-295 aircraft to help reach impenetrable areas which paved the way to evacuate victims in the areas of Sitio Peñafrancia, Barangay Sagrada, Buhi and San Miguel, Nabua, Camarines Sur," the PAF spokesperson added.

To date, a total of 13 flying hours were conducted by the PAF and 32,800 pounds worth of relief goods were transported to all the victims affected by the monstrous typhoon with the help of several national government agencies in the area.

"The Philippine Air Force is continuously on its feet to rescue and help all our fellow Filipinos trapped in different areas of Bicol region," Galang stressed.

Nothing new with Joma claims of defeating military, gov't

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4, 2019): Nothing new with Joma claims of defeating military, gov't

There is nothing new with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chair Jose Maria "Joma" Sison's claims that rebel forces will be finally able to defeat the military and the government this year.

"He says that every year for the past 50 years. It only brought misery to the people he fooled into the armed struggle and slowed down the growth and development of the economy and the country," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said, when sought for a reaction on the matter Friday.

He added that what Sison's threats have accomplished is scaring some investors and closing of some factories.

"It's time to move forward and once and for all put an end to this remote controlled terrorism Joma Sison and his cohorts is espousing," Detoyato said.

Earlier, Sison said the New People's Army (NPA), the CPP's armed wing, will intensify its tactical offensives to defeat the campaign of the enemy to destroy it while carrying out agrarian revolution and mass work.

The NPA is listed as a terrorist organization in the United States and the European Union.

CPP 'priority' to oust PRRD reason to tag NPA as terror group

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4, 2019): CPP 'priority' to oust PRRD reason to tag NPA as terror group

The Communist Party of the Philippines' (CPP) "priority" to oust a sitting President in 2019 should be an added reason to tag the New People's Army (NPA) as a terrorist group, Senator Panfilo Lacson said Thursday.

Lacson said so many lives had already been lost in the 50 years that the CPP and its armed wing, the NPA, had been trying to overthrow the government.

"(CPP founder Jose Maria Sison) has been at it for the past 50 years. So many lives lost already. DOJ (Department of Justice) should follow up with the court the proscription case vs. the NPA as a terrorist group as per Section 2 of Republic Act 9372," Lacson said in a post on his Twitter account.

In February last year, the DOJ asked a Manila court to legally declare the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group, citing the Human Security Act of 2007.

Lacson noted that before Sison was quoted in reports as saying the CPP's priority in 2019 is to oust President Rodrigo Duterte, the CPP-NPA had been attempting to overthrow past and present governments for the past five decades.

While the CPP-NPA had resorted to "peace talks", these were "aimed at having a coalition government but still aimed at a takeover, violent or otherwise," Lacson pointed out.

"They have not succeeded for the past five decades so I don't see how they can. Right now, they are reduced to a band of extortionists, arsonists and robbers, even a terrorist group," he added.

As such, Lacson urged the Executive Department via the DOJ to "follow up the judiciary the case that they filed calling for the proscription of the NPA as a terrorist group which is provided under Sec. 2 of the Human Security Act of 2007."

Holiday season in Davao Region 'generally peaceful'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 2, 2019): Holiday season in Davao Region 'generally peaceful'

(L-R) Chief Superintendent Marcelo Morales, the Director of Police Regional Office (PRO)-11 Director, Brig. Gen. Jose Faustino Jr., commander of the Army's 10th Infantry Division, and Col Randolph Cabangbang, deputy commander of Task Force Davao, brief the AFP-PNP press corps on Wednesday's AFP-PNP press corps at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City. PNA photo by Lilian C Mellejor

DAVAO CITY – Pockets of security incidents at the close of 2018 did not affect the overall peace and order condition of the Davao Region during the New Year revelry.

This was the assessment made by the police and military authorities during the AFP-PNP press corps briefing at the Royal Mandaya Hotel on Wednesday.

During the Christmas and New Year revelries, police said among the incidents recorded throughout Region 11 include the arrest of a soldier and a rebel returnee for illegal discharge of firearms, both in Davao Oriental; a stray bullet incident in Davao del Sur, and the arrest of a person selling a firecracker in the same province.

Morales said the stray bullet incident was reported by the house owner when the bullet landed on the roof, although no one was hurt.

Morales, however, touted the lower number of crime incidents during the yuletide season of 2018 compared to 2017.

"Mas mababa yung number of incidents compared last year (The number of incidents was lower compared to last year," Morales said without elaborating.

On the other hand, Brig. Gen. Jose Faustino Jr., commander of the Army's 10th Infantry Division, reported there were four encounters with the New People’s Army (NPA) in the entire month of December 2018 within Region 11.

Faustino said the military conducted non-stop offensive operations against the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the NPA, despite the latter's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.

“We know that they (NPA) will just take advantage (of the ceasefire) so we went to an offensive during Christmas and New Year and we were able to preempt some plans for the celebration of their anniversary and extortion (activities)," the military official said.

In Davao City, the deputy commander of Task Force Davao described the holiday season as largely peaceful.

“Ever since we have strictly implemented measures at the checkpoints and we were complemented by the random checkpoints,” said Col. Randolph Cabangbang.

City Police Director Alexander Tagum said none of the 12 police stations recorded any violation of the firecracker ban, attributing this to the police's intensified campaign against the use of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices throughout the holiday season.

Cops nab militiaman for shooting soldier in Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3, 2019): Cops nab militiaman for shooting soldier in Samar

NABBED. Nelson Ocasla, a militiaman assigned at 4th Western Samar Cafgu Active Auxilliary unit has been arrested for shooting a soldier in a dance brawl on Wednesday (January 2, 2019). (Photo by Calbiga, Samar Police Station)

ORMOC CITY, Leyte -- A member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) Active Auxiliary was arrested after he allegedly shot and wounded a soldier in a dance brawl in Calbiga, Samar on Wednesday.

Senior Insp. Michael Ray Cañete, Calbiga town police chief, identified the arrested suspect as Nelson Ocasla, 24, who is assigned at the 4th Western Samar Cafgu Active Auxilliary unit in Botoc village, Pinabacdao, Samar and a resident of Can-avid, Eastern Samar.

Cañete, in a phone interview, said the victim, Private 1st Class Anthon Balledo, 23, sustained a gunshot wound at the back of his head. Balledo was taken to the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center and has been declared out of danger.

Balledo, who was on a break as an active member of the 63rd Infantry Battalion under the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and stationed in San Jorge, Samar, is a resident of the same place where the incident happened.

Citing accounts of witnesses, Cañete said prior to the incident, Ocasla was at the dance area, already drunk and indiscriminately pointing his gun.

Balledo, who was also at the party, observed the rowdy behavior of the militiaman. He tried to stop him, but instead he was shot and was slightly hit at the back of his head. Ocasla immediately escaped on board a motorcycle.
Policemen later arrested Ocasla inside his detachment near the party venue.

Taken from his possession was a .45-caliber pistol with markings “Government Model Colt Automatic Caliber .45”, bearing serial number 663468, and a magazine loaded with seven live ammunition.

Recovered from the scene was an empty shell of caliber .45 pistol. Criminal charges are being prepared against the suspect, who is now in the custody of the town police.

NPA leader, 3 others surrender in Compostela Valley province

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3, 2019): NPA leader, 3 others surrender in Compostela Valley province

A New People’s Army (NPA) commander and three other rebels - including a bomb expert — separately surrendered to government troops operating in Compostela Valley province just as the communist group celebrated its 50th-anniversary last month.

Capt. Jerry Lamosao, spokesperson of the Army's 10th Infantry Division, on Thursday said that alias "Cory," 25, the vice commander of Platun Basil, Pulang Bagani Command 8, surrendered to the operating troops of 66th Infantry Battalion on Christmas Day in Barangay Panansalan, Compostela town.

The following day, Cory also facilitated the surrender of another NPA member, a certain JB, a bomb expert, Capt. Lamosao said.

Days later, Lamosao said Cory and JB also guided the troops to two other NPA members who wanted to abandon the communist struggle.

Lamosao identified the other surrenderers as alias Aldrin, 17, a resident of Malita Davao Occidental, and alias Jeffrey, 19, a resident of San Fernando, Bukidnon.

According to Lamosao, their surrender was the result of the "sustained focused military operations conducted by the 66th Infantry (Kabalikat) Battalion."

He said the battalion has been "relentlessly conducting series of operations against the armed groups operating in the boundaries of Davao Oriental and Comval Province."

Based on the statement of the surrenderers, Lamosao said the NPA rebels experienced fatigue and distress due to the hardships, dissatisfaction in the organization, and leadership crisis.

"They are hoping to start a new life in the mainstream society as being enjoyed by their former comrades who have earlier surrendered," the Army official said.

The surrenderers handed over an M653 rifle, a .45-caliber pistol, two Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), four blasting caps and other bomb-making materials, and cash amounting to PHP6,500 supposedly intended for the NPA's food supplies.

Lt. Col. Palmer Parungao, 66IB commander, called on other NPA rebels to yield as "surrender does not entail death but rather an opportunity for a new life".

Troops seize NPA supply cache in Surigao Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 3, 2019): Troops seize NPA supply cache in Surigao Sur

Government troops recovered bomb-making materials and munitions belonging to the New People's Army (NPA) in the Surigao del Sur town of Tago on Wednesday (January 2).

Capt. Francisco Garello Jr., civil-military operations officer of the Army's 36th Infantry Battalion, said the supply cache was discovered at a residence in Sitio Himat-e, Barangay Cayale, Tago, following a civilian tip-off.

Garello said the supplies were entrusted to a "mass supporter" in the area who got "tired of being used and could not bear anymore the burden", as well as the risk of being discovered by soldiers patrolling the village.

The supplies consist of bomb-making materials such as blasting caps, anti-personnel mines, as well as communications equipment, ammunition, and an improvised shotgun.

Over a week ago, on Dec. 23, 36IB personnel also discovered a supply cache in the neighboring town of San Miguel.

Lt. Col. Xerxes Trinidad, 36IB commander, said the series of civilian tip-offs indicated that the rebels "are losing critical mass support."

"The capture of said supplies is another significant blow to their compartmentalized and restricted movement. We were able to successfully do this in just weeks due to the increasing shift of community support in favor of the government,” Trinidad said.

The Army official called on "peace-loving Surigaonons to unite with us" and encourage NPA members to "surrender and avail of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program."

Lorenzana, execs vow peaceful BOL plebiscite, midterm polls

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4, 2019): Lorenzana, execs vow peaceful BOL plebiscite, midterm polls

Top military officials led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana met with local leaders here Thursday to defuse tension following the recent bombing incident in Cotabato City and assure the city of a peaceful conduct of the upcoming Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) plebiscite and midterm polls.

Lorenzana said they came here to prevent speculation and “finger-pointing” on the bombing, which claimed two lives and injured scores of others.

“We are here to defuse the tensions and we don't want to escalate the conflict,” Lorenzana said.

Among those who attended the dialogue were Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez Jr., Cotabato Mayor Frances Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, Maguindanao First District and Cotabato City Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, and Bangsamoro Islamic Forces Chief of Staff Sammy Gambar Al-Mansoor.

Lorenzana said a presentation made during the security briefing led by 6th Infantry Division commander Maj. General Cirilito Sobejana suggests the bombing had the signature of a local terror group.

“Until we get to the bottom of this, we consider this incident a terror attack,” he said, adding that the initial investigation “points to Dawla Islamiyah terror group.”

The defense chief said their intention in coming here was to ensure the people “to have a free and peaceful elections and plebiscites.”

“Rest assured that your military and police are doing their best to ensure that you can vote freely according to your choice,” he said.

Lorenzana also called on the people to weigh the benefits of the BOL.

“Itong BOL na ito, matagal na natin hinihintay. There will be a lot of benefits. Let’s weigh it over para magkaroon naman tayong ng katahimikan (We've been waiting for the BOL for a long time. There will be a lot of benefits. Let's weigh it over so we can have peace)," he said.

Meanwhile, Galvez and Westmincom chief Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega asked the leaders to stay calm following the attack.

“We can't win peace by force, but by persuasive diplomacy and understanding,” Galvez said.

Galvez said the local leaders and the security forces are committed to making sure the upcoming plebiscite and elections “will be peaceful and it will reflect the honest will of the people.”

He noted that the presence of the defense chief here was critical since Lorenzana knows the political landscape and security situation of the area.

Lorenzana is from the town of Parang in Maguindanao and studied at the Notre Dame University.

The plebiscite is scheduled on Jan. 21, 2019 in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Cotabato City, and Isabela City for the ratification of the BOL.

For Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato, and the areas that filed their petitions to join the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) granted by the Comelec, the plebiscite will be on Feb. 6, 2019.