Friday, December 20, 2019

CPP denies having ‘hit list,’ calls Esperon’s claim a sabotage to possible peace talks resumption

From GMA News Online (Dec 20, 2019): CPP denies having ‘hit list,’ calls Esperon’s claim a sabotage to possible peace talks resumption (By DONA MAGSINO)

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) denied that the organization keeps a "hit list," contrary to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.'s claim earlier this week.

In a statement released on Friday,
the CPP said that Esperon's allegation was just a ploy to "sabotage the planned resumption of formal peace talks" between its political wing, the National Democratic Front, and the government.

"Together with fellow peace antagonists Delfin Lorenzana of the Department of National Defense and DILG's Eduardo Año, Esperon is adamant in adhering to GRP President Rodrigo Duterte's statement to resume the peace negotiations with the NDFP," the CPP said.

President Rodrigo Duterte halted the peace negotiations with the communist rebels in November 2017 as he lamented the alleged continued attacks of the Reds against state forces and civilians.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the government’s chief negotiator with communist rebels, visited the Netherlands earlier this month—at the President's order—to speak with CPP founder Joma Sison, NDF senior adviser Luis Jalandoni, and NDF chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili.

CPP belies Esperon claim of reduced NPA force

On Tuesday, Esperon bared that the Reds supposedly has a "hit list" including him, President Rodrigo Duterte, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

The CPP, on the other hand, turned the table on the state security forces for allegedly keeping track of militant leaders.

"It is in fact the AFP and PNP who keep in their infamous 'orders of battle' names of activists, progressives and other individuals supportive of the people's struggles for democratic rights," the statement read.

"It is the regime's death squads in the military and police who have killed close to 300 peasants, workers, indigenous peoples, human rights workers, journalists, lawyers and other democratic forces in the last three years," it continued.

The communist group also condemned the killing of father-and-son farmers Paterno Casos Sr. and Dino in Compostela Valley last week.

It alleged that Esperon, a former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, has extended a "vicious campaign of murder" now that he is the Duterte administration's national security adviser.

"While the NPA keeps no 'hit list' supposedly with Esperon's name in it, the people will not fail to remember his many crimes and may seek justice with their revolutionary army," the CPP said. — MDM, GMA News

PART 1//Military report confirms spying risks in deal with China-backed telco

From Rappler (Dec 20, 2019): PART 1//Military report confirms spying risks in deal with China-backed telco (By JC GOTINGA)

The China-backed telco’s equipment can indeed be used to spy on the military, says the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ own risk analysis of the ‘co-location’ deal

  • A military risk analysis of its co-location deal with Dito Telecommunity appears to have been done only after the agreement was signed on September 11, 2019.
  • Electronic and radio frequency eavesdropping, interception, and jamming, says the report, are among "highly likely" risks.
  • Existing cell site deals with Globe and Smart present the same risks. However, Dito Telecommunity is partially owned by a Chinese state-run company, which is required by their laws to provide intelligence.
  • Despite the threats, the military says the risks are "low" due to “existing control measures.” Yet "additional controls" are recommended.
MANILA, Philippines – It wouldn't really say so in public, but the military itself recognizes the high likelihood of spying threats and the resulting damage posed by its deal allowing the China-backed 3rd telco to build cell sites in its camps and bases all over the Philippines.

In a risk analysis of its co-location agreement with Dito Telecommunity (formerly Mislatel), a copy of which was obtained by Rappler, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) identified several security threats to its communication systems "in relation to the telco agreements."

This means even the cell sites of Globe and Smart, hosted in AFP properties since 1998, present the same risks. However, Dito's direct link to the Chinese government means the 3rd telco poses a more imminent security threat.

China is after ownership and control of the West Philippine Sea, has the Philippine government tied up in loans worth billions of pesos, and is expanding its political and economic interests in the Philippines. It is fast dominating the Asia Pacific region as an economic and military power.

The Chinese government owns China Telecom (Chinatel), which owns 40% of Dito Telecommunity. Chinese law mandates companies it owns – like Chinatel – to provide intelligence to the government.

Although Chinatel is a minority stakeholder in Dito, a consortium that also includes Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy’s Udenna Corporation and Chelsea Logistics, the Chinese company will be building the telco’s communication infrastructure all over the Philippines, and will be involved in its daily operations.

That means Chinatel would have at least some control over Dito’s equipment that would be placed inside military properties, and the personnel who would set them up.

Barrage of criticism

After the AFP and Dito signed the co-location agreement on September 11, 2019, the military immediately faced a barrage of criticism from several lawmakers and security experts, who found the trade-off too obvious.

Why should the military host the equipment of a company with links to a country that covets Philippine properties?

Senior generals gave assurances they have put in place measures to protect against information security breaches, and that Dito’s equipment would be separate from the AFP’s own communication lines, not necessarily in camps.

Besides, public clamor for a 3rd telco to break the duopoly of Globe and Smart justifies military support, the AFP said, especially since the first two telcos have long had a similar co-location arrangement. Another player can only further boost the military's own data connection.

In short, the military said, the benefits it would get from the deal with Dito far outweigh the anticipated risks.

RISK ANALYSIS. The AFP assesses the security risks that come with letting telcos, particularly China-backed Dito Telecommunity, to build cell sites inside military camps and bases. Photo sourced by Rappler

Analysis after the fact

The AFP's internal study describes the co-location deal’s information security risks in considerable detail – far more than anything that defense and military officials have acknowledged publicly.

The 7-page document was prepared by the AFP Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Communication, Electronics and Information Systems (J6). Its first page contains an introduction that refers to the signing of the Dito contract on September 11, 2019 in the past tense, which means the study was done after, and not before, the military agreed to the telco’s co-location proposal.

Rappler earlier obtained and studied copies of the military’s co-location contracts with all 3 telcos for any hints of security risks, and found that they offer no real assurance of protection against spying or data theft.

The risk analysis of the deal with Dito now clearly identifies and confirms several such risks and gives a broader picture of what the co-location agreements between the military and the telcos really entail.

AFP J6 chief Major General Adrian Sanchez Jr and then-AFP chief of staff general Benjamin Madrigal Jr signed the contract to represent the military. Dito's chief administrative officer Adel Tamano signed off for the telco.

The deal still needs the final approval of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who agreed to defer signing the contract until the Senate finishes studying the deal's security implications. The Senate has yet to give its final recommendation.

Because Dito still lacks the final go-ahead to build its cell sites, the AFP J6 based its risk analysis on the existing infrastructure of Globe and Smart inside military camps and bases. The premise is that Dito’s infrastructure will be largely similar to that of the other telcos. 

(READ: Experts warn of spying risk in AFP deal with China-backed telco)

CELL SITES. The presence of commercial telecommunication towers inside AFP properties heightens vulnerabilities in the military's communication systems. Photo sourced by Rappler
What are the vulnerabilities?

The AFP J6 identified two of the military’s existing wireless communication systems that “offer some vulnerability to interception” heightened by the presence of telco equipment:

  • AFP Fixed Communication System (AFP-FCS) – A fixed-station microwave network that links together military camps and bases nationwide. It relies on line-of-sight signals transmitted across free space. The military calls it its “main communication backbone.”
  • AFP High-Frequency Radio Voice and Data Communication System (AFP-HF) – Provides communication linkages within and between military forces over considerable distances, usually deployed in tactical applications. It also serves as an alternate communication system for operational headquarters, and as back-up for the General Headquarters, the AFP Command Center, and Major Services Operation Centers.
Each system has its own vulnerabilities, but both the AFP-FCS and the AFP-HF are susceptible to eavesdropping and interception, according to the risk analysis.

Eavesdropping is when a third party listens in on communication through a device embedded in the system, or in the case of radio communication, by tuning into the frequency or channel of the transmission.

Interception is when a third party cuts in on transmitted communication through a device placed in the path of the transmission airwaves.

The AFP-HF is also vulnerable to jamming – the blocking or interference of existing radio or wireless communication systems, the analysis said. Microwave signals can also be jammed, which means the AFP-FCS could be susceptible to it, too, but the risk analysis does not mention this.

The systems' vulnerabilities exist regardless of their proximity to telco equipment.

What the AFP implied in its risk analysis was that the telcos could exploit these vulnerabilities, thus turning them into imminent threats.

Interception: Man in the middle

The AFP-FCS is a terrestrial, or land-based, voice and data microwave system, which the military calls its “main communication backbone.”

Its objective is to “interconnect the General Headquarters and Area Commands, Major Services, down to Infantry Division level with high grade, reliable voice and data communication infrastructure for the efficient and effective command and control and administration of the AFP,” according to the risk analysis.

The General Headquarters cover the military top brass stationed at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. The Area Commands include the Northern Luzon Command, Southern Luzon Command, the Western Command in Palawan, the Central Command in the Visayas, the Eastern Mindanao Command, and the Western Mindanao Command.

The Major Services cover the Philippine Army headquartered at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, the Philippine Navy headquartered at Naval Station Jose Andrada in Manila, and the Philippine Air Force headquartered at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City. The Army has 11 Infantry Divisions all over the country.

The AFP-FCS uses the microwave frequency to transmit voice and data among these units. Microwave transmissions interconnect on a line-of-sight basis, meaning any physical obstruction in the airspace between transceivers, such as mountains or skyscrapers, can limit or cut their connection.

Similarly, it is quite easy to cut into transmissions from the AFP-FCS. “Microwave links, like most wireless communication systems, are susceptible to electronic eavesdropping and interception,” the AFP J6 said in its analysis.

“Equipment to intercept [these] signals is readily and cheaply available,” according to the analysis, citing the “man-in-the-middle” attack as “the most common method of exploiting the vulnerability of an unsecured microwave link.”

All anyone needs to do to intercept a message sent through a microwave link is to put interception equipment in the line of sight between two communication towers or cell sites, and if the link is unsecured, the “man in the middle” is able to spy.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE. The military's risk analysis contains a rudimentary illustration of an interception or 'man-in-the-middle' attack on telco towers. Photo sourced by Rappler

Jamming: ‘Particularly vulnerable’

The AFP-HF, meanwhile, is described as an “alternate” or “back-up” communication system among the AFP’s different units over longer distances because its wavelength enables transmission beyond line-of-sight.

It is “usually deployed in tactical applications.” This refers to field missions and combat scenarios, because high frequency (HF) radio waves can be beamed towards the sky, and the ionosphere bounces them back to Earth, enabling the signal to cover vast distances regardless of terrain. This “skywave” method of communication can traverse mountains and follow the curve of the Earth to reach beyond the horizon, allowing even for intercontinental transmission.

“Like most radio systems, HF is particularly vulnerable to interception and electronic/signal jamming considering the nature of radio waves to use free space as the medium of transmission,” the AFP J6 said in its analysis.

Signal jamming equipment can obstruct the reception of HF communication, and it has historically been used in battles to foil enemy plans.

Communication signals are also usually jammed to avert security threats during high-risk scenarios, such as the yearly Black Nazarene procession in Manila, or during the arrival of the President at a conflict zone.

Eavesdropping: listening from the inside

What might really interest China in Dito’s co-location deal with the AFP is physical access to its camps and bases, because it could present an opportunity to eavesdrop on the military.

Interception and jamming can be done from outside camp; eavesdropping happens right at the source.

The risk analysis states that an “electronic or data gathering device may be installed in or within the AFP communications facility for eavesdropping purposes.”

This means that in the course of Dito’s installation of its transceivers on the military’s communication towers, the telco’s personnel could also put bugs or other surveillance devices in areas they would be able to access. The transceivers could have spying devices embedded in them.

In the case of the AFP-HF, eavesdropping can be done by “capturing and listening to the radio frequency channel of the [military’s] HF radios,” the document said.

4 'threat events'

Electronic eavesdropping, interception, and jamming of communication signals have a long history of being used in espionage and warfare. A quick Google search of “signals intelligence” or “SIGINT” would turn up professional sources attesting to the fact.

The risk analysis downplayed the concern that a telco's presence, particularly Dito with its Chinese links, increases the likelihood of these threats happening. In the end, the AFP J6 concluded that “existing pro-active control measures” mitigate the "low" risks.

Using a method developed in 2012 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the US Department of Commerce – the Guide for Conducting Risk Assessments, NIST Special Publication 800-30 – the AFP J6 enumerated and briefly defined 4 specific “threat events”:

  1. Electronic eavesdropping at the AFP communications facility – “Electronic or data gathering device may be installed in or within the AFP communications facility for eavesdropping purposes.”
  2. Microwave signal interception in between sites (man-in-the-middle attack) – “Interception equipment may be installed between the microwave links,” which are cell sites or communication towers. This involves the AFP-FCS.
  3. Signal jamming of the AFP-HF voice and data system – “Deliberate jamming, blocking, or interference with existing radio or wireless communications systems.”
  4. Radio Frequency (RF) signal eavesdropping on the AFP-HF – “Capturing and listening to the RF channel of the [AFP-HF] radios.”
The AFP J6 “determined the likelihood of the threat event being initiated by the threat actor” – or how likely Chinatel would use Dito’s co-location deal to spy on the AFP – using the following scale:

They then used a similar scale to determine “the likelihood of the threat event resulting in adverse impact” on the organization:

With these qualifiers, the AFP J6 then analyzed the level of risk by leaning on the “effectiveness of the existing control measures that were adopted by the organization to mitigate" it.

All things considered, the AFP J6 said that all the risks from the threat events are low:

Note how the 6th column indicates “recommended additional controls,” which means the military’s “existing control measures” do not exhaust all possible ways of averting the spying risks from the co-location deals not just with Dito, but with Globe and Smart, too.

The risk analysis does not tackle microwave signal jamming, which could be a vulnerability of the AFP-FCS.

What are the ‘existing control measures?’

The AFP never categorically denied that the co-location deal could be used for spying.

It fended off questions and criticism by pointing out that it has “existing control measures” to prevent information security breaches and minimize their impact if they ever happen.

“Physical Security” and “Access Control.” This means the AFP would strictly limit and control which telco personnel would gain access to its communications facilities whether to install or maintain the cell sites. Only Filipino engineers and technicians are allowed to access the cell sites, “which are some of the most tightly guarded military installations,” the AFP J6 said.

Any foreigner seeking the same access needs to secure clearance from the AFP’s intelligence unit.

“Equipment Inspection” of every device the telcos would bring in. It would then depend on how thoroughly the AFP inspects the telco’s equipment, and how keen military personnel are in identifying questionable items if a telco tries to sneak in any.

“Network Security.” This involves physically separating the telco’s equipment from the military’s, and then monitoring data and signal traffic for breaches – hacking or eavesdropping. The AFP J6 said that although military and telco equipment share the same towers in military properties, they are segregated from one another.

The AFP said it runs a Network Monitoring System to “monitor and manage” signal traffic among its communication networks. It’s supposed to detect and block attempts to hack into the system.

“Data Payload Encryption.” This means messages sent over its microwave links are coded, and anyone who intercepts them would only get a garbled, unintelligible transmission.

As for the AFP-HF that uses high frequency radio waves, the AFP said it uses Harris radio sets, a US brand with built-in military standard protection. The radio sets come with an electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM) suite that "filters radio traffic to provide reliable, secure HF communications in the presence of jamming.”

The AFP’s radio inventory from Harris also comes with the Citadel Cryptographic Engine, which encrypts radio transmissions, and should guard against electronic eavesdropping.

How effective are these control measures? This would be the big question. Whether the military’s conclusion of its risk analysis is accurate depends on the effectiveness of the control measures they claim to have.

Rappler showed the document to 3 independent experts on national defense, telecommunications, and information security, to get their opinion on the AFP’s assessment.

Their findings raised more questions, including whether the AFP has a good grasp of just what it is getting itself into by letting a China-backed telco into their midst. (To be continued) –

TOP PHOTO: Is the Philippine military being used by China in a plan to cull data from Filipinos through a co-location deal with Dito Telecommunity? Photo of soldiers by Jire Carreon/Rappler. Photo of communication tower from Shutterstock. Collage designed by Alyssa Arizabal/Rappler.

Army gets new chief of staff with Sarsagat set for retirement

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 20, 2019): Army gets new chief of staff with Sarsagat set for retirement (By Martin Sadongdong)

The Philippine Army (PA) installed its new Chief of Staff (CS) on Friday in a change of command ceremony held at its headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City with the upcoming retirement of outgoing CS, Major General Jesus Sarsagat.

Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay, Army Commanding General, led the turnover ceremony between Sarsagat and the incoming CS, Brigadier General Rowen Tolentino.

(L-R) Brigadier General Rowen Tolentino, Major General Jesus Sarsagat, and Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay (PHILIPPINE ARMY / MANILA BULLETIN)

“I expect objectivity and truthfulness in your feedbacks, transparency and accountability on matters of logistics and finance, and deliberateness in planning and operations,” Gapay told Tolentino during the ceremony.

“Let us continue the tradition of excellence that our predecessors have left us as we bring our organization closer to our goal of becoming a world-class Army that is a source of national pride,” the Army Chief added.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, Army spokesperson, Tolentino is a member of the Philippine Military Academy “Makatao” Class of 1989.

He accomplished a course in Project Planning, Development and Management in 2004, a Master’s Degree in Business Administration in 2007 and a Senior Executive Course on National Security in 2015.

He also took the Armor Captain’s Career Course in the U.S. Army Armor School in 2001 and Command and General Staff Course at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Command and General Staff College in 2008.

Prior to his assumption, Zagala said Tolentino served as the deputy commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Comand.

He also became the commanding officer of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion and 3rd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, Light Armor Division; and Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil-Military Operations, Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Chief of the Management Fiscal Office at the Army headquarters.

Meanwhile, Sarsagat, who took the post in January this year, is set to retire from service as he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 56 on Christmas Day, December 25.

After he graduated from PMA as a member of the “Maringal” Class of 1988, Sarsagat served combat duty in Southern Tagalog Region with the First Scout Ranger Battalion, First Scout Ranger Regiment as Platoon Leader, and Intelligence and Operations Officer and as Commanding Officer of Charlie Company, 74th Infantry Battalion until 1993.

It was during his company commander days when he was critically wounded and obtained the “Scar of War” in Jovellar, Albay in 1992, Zagala said.

Sarsagat was also designated as the Chief of Unified Command Staff of Northern Luzon Command, Deputy Chief of the Office of the Legislative Affairs, and as the Secretary Joint Staff at the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

The Philippines’ National Defense Strategy – Analysis

Posted to the Eurasia Review (Dec 20, 2019): The Philippines’ National Defense Strategy – Analysis (By Mico A. Galang)

On October 31, 2018, Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs Angelito M. De Leon presented a copy of the country’s National Defense Strategy (NDS) to Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenza during the agency’s 79th founding anniversary. Described by DND as the Manila’s “first ever” NDS, the strategy document only became publicly available online in August 2019. The time horizon of the NDS is from 2018 until 2022, the year President Rodrigo Duterte’s term expires. As the Duterte administration enters its final two and half years in office, two questions on the strategy document may be raised: 1) how does the NDS relate to other security-related documents?; and 2) what does the NDS mean for Manila’s defense and security relations in the Asia-Pacific region?

The NDS is anchored on two previously released policy/strategy documents under the Duterte administration—2017 National Security Policy (NSP), and 2018 National Security Strategy (NSS). The NSP outlined, in broad strokes, the overall national security objectives of the government. The NSS, on the other hand, categorized the Philippines’ national security interests into “core,” “important,” and “other.” These interests were then harmonized into national security goals from which broad strategic courses of action were identified. The NDS “maps the planning, prioritization, and resourcing processes of the [DND] in line with the identified priorities and outcomes of the NSS.” Indeed, the NDS identified six of the twelve national security goals which are most relevant to DND’s mandate. Among others, these national security goals include: 1) safeguard and preserve national sovereignty and territorial integrity; 2) ensure maritime and airspace security; and 3) strengthen international relations. Anchored on the relevant national security goals, the NDS identified two categories of defense missions: external, and internal. The external defense missions are: 1) Maritime and Air Defense Mission (MarAD); 2) Cyber Security Mission (CS); and 3) Security Cooperation and Engagement Mission (SCE). The NDS will also serve as the basis for the crafting of the National Military Strategy (NMS) by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to ensure “coherence and alignment of important strategies for a more effective and collective response to national security threats.”

Cognizant of the interrelatedness of Philippine security policy/strategy documents, it appears that the NDS has three major implications for Manila’s defense and security relations in the Asia-Pacific region. First, the NDS strategic environment assessment situated the country’s external politico-security challenges within the broader purview of the U.S.-China geostrategic competition, a phenomenon that will likely shape the dynamics of Asia-Pacific in the foreseeable future. Like NSP and NSS, the NDS underscored that the “overall strategic backdrop and geopolitical landscape of the Asia-Pacific lies on the U.S.-China rivalry, which proves to be a vital consideration for the strategic decisions of the country.” As the “maritime heartland of Southeast Asia,” the South China Sea (SCS) “is crucial to the security and economy of the region.” The NDS also underscored that sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) “must be kept open and that freedom of navigation [in] and overflight [above] the SCS must be ensured.” In this context, the NDS stressed that Manila “views the massive construction of artificial islands in its maritime areas in the SCS, which may be used as military bases, as a grave threat to its national security.” As such, echoing NSP and NSS, the NDS stressed that the dispute in West Philippine Sea (WPS), part of the broader SCS, is the “foremost security challenge to Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Beyond the SCS, the NDS also took note of the other territorial and maritime disputes in the region, particularly the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, and the issue of Taiwan. With respect to the former, the NDS noted that it serves “as the major point of contention among Asia’s economic powerhouses.” Cross-Strait relations, on the other hand, “dominate the interplay of geopolitical players in the region.” Clearly, for the NDS, the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific is the larger context in understanding the external security challenges of the Philippines.

Second, the NDS reaffirmed the Philippines’ alliance and security partnerships, as well as ASEAN’s centrality in the multilateral architecture. A key pillar of the NDS is the Philippines’ security relations with other countries. After all, as the NDS noted, “it is in the interest of the country that security partnerships are being nurtured with other like-minded states” since “no [single] nation has the power to overcome [complex security challenges].” Noting that Washington “remains as the only treaty ally” of Manila, the NDS underscored that the “stabilizing U.S. presence in the region can be further expected to persist as it is strengthened by its continued defense engagements forged with Asia-Pacific nations including Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, and the Philippines.” Beyond the U.S. alliance, the NDS also reaffirmed the importance of Manila’s strategic partnerships with Tokyo, and Hanoi, the comprehensive partnership with Canberra, as well as security ties with other countries in the region such as South Korea, and Southeast Asian states. These security arrangements not only promote interoperability, but also complement the efforts in enhancing the capability of the Philippine military.

Apart from the bilateral security arrangements, the NDS also underscored the importance of ASEAN for Philippine national security. Indeed, the NDS reaffirmed that the “Philippines supports ASEAN’s centrality in the multilateral architecture of the region.” For DND, the key ASEAN-led platforms include the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM), ADMM-Plus, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), among others.

Third, the strategy document also suggested some efforts to strike a delicate balance in line with apparent shifts in the country’s foreign policy. While the NDS reaffirmed the alliance and partnerships of Manila, the strategy document also identified China and Russia as “emerging security partners.” China’s inclusion in this category is of particular interest because, as noted earlier, the artificial islands constructed by Beijing are, according to the NDS, pose as a “grave threat to [the country’s] national security.” Identifying China as an emerging security partner notwithstanding its dispute with Manila may likely be in consonance with President Duterte’s “independent foreign policy” which in part entails enhancing ties with non-traditional countries. I have argued elsewhere that this foreign policy shift appears to be anchored on a hedging approach.

In examining the NDS, it must be stressed that the Philippines is a relatively small power situated in a region in which the dynamics of major power competition is the overarching theme shaping the geopolitical landscape. The NSS, upon which the NDS is anchored, emphasized the country’s vulnerability in this context. Indeed, the NSS noted that the Philippines’ geographical location and natural resources have “provided a strong temptation to expansionist powers.” It is for this reason why the NDS underscored that the defense department will “sustain its efforts in improving capabilities for territorial defense” through the AFP Capability Upgrade Program, and AFP Modernization Program, as well as developing a Self-Reliant Defense Posture Program (SRDP). The NDS also highlighted the need to, under the MarAD mission, to strengthen the AFP’s capability on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) over the surface, sub-surface, and air space, and Air Domain Awareness (ADA) over the Philippine Air Defense Identification Zone (PADIZ).

As a small power, the Philippines cannot rely on its capabilities alone. As one scholar pointed out, small powers operate on narrower margins and therefore need to broaden their diplomatic space for maneuver and choice, and expand the resources which they can tap in periods of stress. Hence, strengthening defense and security relations with other countries is a key component of the NDS. In implementing the strategy, Manila will likely encounter challenges, among them are difficulties in Philippines-China security relations. As pointed out earlier, the NDS identified Beijing as an “emerging security partner.” However, in view of China’s efforts to consolidate its position in the SCS, forging stable a modus vivendi is an immense diplomatic task. At the same time, ensuring that Manila’s alliance and partnerships remain in tact in the face of internal and external pressures is likewise a challenge for the Philippine defense establishment. Moreover, there is a need to secure resources, as well as focus and attention, for the successful execution of the NDS.

[Mico A. Galang is a researcher at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP). The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the official position of NDCP.]

China group's $10bn Philippines airport bid sows alarm

Posted to Nikkei Asian Review (Dec 20, 2019): China group's $10bn Philippines airport bid sows alarm (By Cliff Venzon, Nikkei staff writer)

Sangley Point airport project located near sensitive military facilities

Retired Philippine Navy chief Alexander Pama said China Communications Construction Company's involvement in a plan to develop the Sangley Point airport project would "be a dagger pointed to the heart of the nation." (Photo by Keiichiro Asahara)

Alarmed Philippine Navy officials are trying to scuttle China's involvement in a $10 billion airport project near Manila, citing national security concerns.

State-owned China Communications Construction Company, which built a chain of Chinese military outposts in the South China Sea, has joined forces with billionaire Lucio Tan's MarcoAsia on a proposed new airport at Sangley Point located near highly sensitive military facilities.

"That is a major concern not only for the Philippine Navy and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but also for the whole country,"
a senior navy official told the Nikkei Asian Review, requesting anonymity.

The consortium was the lone bidder on Tuesday at an auction for the project which will involve the reclamation of 1,900 hectares of land and will host a four-runway airport capable of handling 100 million passengers annually.

Around 35 kilometeres from downtown Manila, the airport is envisioned as another alternative solution to the Philippine capital's air congestion problems.

Jesse Grepo, legal officer at the Cavite provincial government, said the consortium's bid is still subject to evaluation, with clearances from other government agencies also needed before actual construction can begin.

China's militarization of the South China Sea has dogged efforts by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to forge closer ties with Beijing since his election 2016.

While Duterte set aside an international court ruling dimissing China's claim to more than 80% of the South China in return for more than $45 billion in investment, the Philippines' defense establishment remains suspicious of China and has maintained its traditional links to the U.S., which remains Manila's only treaty ally.

The Sangley Point airport project is located in Cavite province, close to the Philippine Fleet and Naval Installation Command and Naval Sea Systems Command, which provides key support services for the military such as refuelling, re-watering, shore power connections, berthing, and ferry services, a Navy official told Nikkei.

The airport also sits across Manila Bay, where the Philippine Navy headquarters is located. "That is too close for comfort," the Navy official said.
Retired Philippine Navy chief Alexander Pama said that if the project proceeded with the involvement of the controversial Chinese contractor, it would "be a dagger pointed to the heart of the nation."

"Historically, the navy and airbases were positioned there to protect the nation's capital precisely because of its strategic location," he said in a Facebook post.

Asia's largest international contractor, and the world's largest highway and bridge design construction company, CCCC was blacklisted by the World Bank in 2009 for eight years over alleged "fraudulent practices" in a Philippine road project.

For the airport project, CCCC's partners include the China Airport Construction Group Company and its subsidiary CCCC Dredging Group, which oversaw China's island-building program in the South China Sea, including in areas claimed by the Philippines considers as part of its territory.

MacroAsia, an aviation support provider, is controlled by Lucio Tan, which owns Philippine Airlines and enjoys close ties with the Chinese government.

Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla said defense officials did not object to the project before the bidding. "We understand their concerns, but we will make sure that proper safeguard will be in place," Remulla told Nikkei.

In the Philippines, the defense establishment viewpoint position usually carries weight when it comes to vetting foreign investments in strategic locations.

Earlier this year, the Navy torpedoed the hopes of two Chinese firms' bidding to take over the a bankrupt shipyard in Subic Bay, a former US naval base that opens onto the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, the owners of the Grande Island project in Subic Bay were forced to look for new investors earlier this year after the government rejected a substantial investment from Sanya Group, a Chinese resorts developer.

Concerns over CCCC's airport bid comes amid growing mistrust over Chinese investments in the Philippines.

Opposition lawmakers recently called for a probe examining the State Grid Corporation of China's 40% stake in the Philippine electricity grid amid media reports that China can remotely control or shut down the Philippine grid. The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines said such allegations were baseless.

Partners in a joint-venture between China Telecom and Davao tycoon Dennis Uy to build a third telecom network in the Philippines have also been forced to downplay espionage fears. The consortium is planning to launch network services next year.

4 top BIFF officials yield to military

From CNN Philippines (Dec 20, 2019): 4 top BIFF officials yield to military (By CNN Philippines Staff)

An official of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) surrenders to authorities in Maguindanao.

CNN Philippines (Metro Manila, December 20) – Four top officials of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) surrendered in Maguindanao on Thursday.

The surrenderees were identified as 3rd Brigade Commander Ibrahim Odin of the BIFF's 2nd Division; 1st Battalion Commander Diya Musa of 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division; 1st Battalion Administrative Officer Daud Paglas of 3rd Brigade 2nd Division, and 1st Batallion Operation Officer Yasses Abunawas of 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division.

The militants surrendered to the 34th Infantry Battalion in Northern Kabuntalan on Thursday morning. They also turned over a Barret rifle, an M16 rifle, a rocket-propelled grenade, an improvised explosive device, and pieces of ammunition.

“The military encourages even hardcore fighters to surrender to government troops for a chance to rebuild their lives, as we are serious in extending peaceful mechanisms to those who contemplate to turn themselves in,” said Maj. Gen. Diosdado Carreon, Joint Task Force Central Commander.

“Peace entails inclusive and participative solutions that we deem it necessary to involve and convince rebels to return to the fold of the law. With our success, we think this is an effective resolution, and we mean to sustain this campaign,” said Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Western Mindanao Command.

Three BIFF militants also surrendered to the authorities amid military operations in Central Mindanao last week.

China And The Philippines Finally Agree To Cooperate In The South China Sea

Posted to (Dec 17, 2019): China And The Philippines Finally Agree To Cooperate In The South China Sea (By Irina Slav)

The Chinese and Philippine foreign ministers sealed an agreement for the two countries to pursue joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, Xinhua reports.

The talks between the two countries on the South China Sea’s oil and gas potential and how to exploit it have been going on for years. An agreement has been difficult to reach, however, mostly because of China’s territorial claims to the basin, which cover nearly the entirety of it.

Even so, earlier this year, the presidents of China and the Philippines reached something of a general agreement that joint exploration for oil and gas in the South China Sea would be a good idea. However, their differences as to how to pursue this remained.

“Both President Duterte and President Xi agreed that while their variant positions will have to remain, their differences however need not derail nor diminish the amity between the two countries,” a spokesman for the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte said after the August meeting, adding that the two had reached an agreement “to manage the South China Sea issue, and to continue to dialogue peacefully in resolving the conflict.”

Dialogue was not always easy to maintain, especially after the Philippines won a court case against China about the South China Sea in 2016. That strained bilateral relations but did not end them, as obviously both China and the Philippines realized the benefits of working together rather than being at odds in a basin the two share with several other countries, all with their own oil and gas ambitions in the South China Sea.

Estimates of how much oil and gas the South China Sea contains vary. A USGS estimate from the mid-90s puts them at 28 billion barrels of crude. China’s CNOOC estimates them at 125 billion barrels of crude and 500 trillion cubic feet of gas, but these figures have not been confirmed by an independent assessor. The one thing that is certain is that there is oil and gas in the South China Sea and it may be enough to fuel regional rivalries and scare tactics like the ones China has deployed against Vietnam.

By Irina Slav for

ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre and Philippine Coast Guard Jointly Convene Meeting with Regional Maritime Authorities, Shipping Industry and Diplomatic Community to Assess Evolution of Piracy and Sea Robbery in Asia

Posted to Hellenic Shipping News (Dec 19, 2019): ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre and Philippine Coast Guard Jointly Convene Meeting with Regional Maritime Authorities, Shipping Industry and Diplomatic Community to Assess Evolution of Piracy and Sea Robbery in Asia 

Maritime law enforcement and regulatory agencies from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam as well as members from the shipping industry and diplomatic community in Manila today began a two-day meeting jointly organised by ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre (ISC) and ReCAAP Philippine Focal Point (Philippine Coast Guard) to assess the evolution of piracy and sea robbery in Asia.

Addressing the delegates in his welcome remarks, Director General Alex Paul I Monteagudo, National Intelligence Coordinating Council, representing the Guest-of-Honour, Senator Christopher Lawrence Tesoro Go of the Republic of the Philippines, welcomed greater cooperation among Asian countries to keep sea lanes safe and secure for the free and open passage of commercial vessels so that economies in the region can continue to develop and thrive without the threat of piracy and armed robbery against ships at sea.

In addition to an update of the latest situation of piracy and sea robbery in Asia, the meeting will also take stock of the evolving situation in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters of Eastern Sabah, which has seen 30 incidents of abduction of crew (19 actual and 11 attempted) between March 2016 to November 2019, with the two most recent incidents occurring in June and September 2019.

The meeting will also examine the evolving nature of piracy and sea robbery, using the Sulu Sea as a case study, where most of the incidents of the abduction of crew for ransom were claimed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an Islamic extremist group based in southern Philippines.

The meeting will close with an assessment of the efforts and progress made by the Philippine Government in addressing the piracy and sea robbery situation in the southern Philippines and chart the way forward.

“The maritime safety and security situation in the Sulu-Celebes Seas is dynamic and evolving. While the stakeholders have made much efforts to address the threats, more can be done, especially in examining the underlying causes driving the incidents of abduction of crew for ransom claimed by the Abu Sayyaf Group,” said Admiral Joel S. Garcia, Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard.

“This meeting is hence timely as it presents an opportunity to raise the awareness and share perspectives on the emergent nexus between maritime terrorism and piracy and armed robbery against ships. This is an area I encourage ReCAAP ISC to further study, as it may potentially add a new complexion to piracy and sea robbery in the future,” continued Admiral Garcia, who is also Chairperson of the ReCAAP ISC Governing Council.

“While the overall number of incidents of piracy and sea robbery in Asia has been decreasing, with 70 incidents from January to November 2019, we cannot afford to operate in a ‘business as usual’ mode,” said Mr. Masafumi Kuroki, Executive Director of ReCAAP ISC.

“The situation always has the potential to change, as new modus operandi emerge. ReCAAP ISC and Focal Points, the shipping industry and other stakeholders must stay vigilant and be keen to the evolving threats. This meeting co-organised with ReCAAP Philippine Focal Point is thus designed to assess the progress of efforts, consider further measures, and raise awareness on emerging threats to the safety and security of our seas,” continued Mr. Kuroki.

Admiral Joel S. Garcia, Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard
and Chairperson of ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre Governing Council
welcomed participants from the diplomatic community, ReCAAP Focal Points,
regional law enforcement authorities and the shipping industry to the opening of the Cluster Meeting in Manila.

Director General Alex Paul I Monteagudo, National Intelligence Coordinating Council,
representing the Guest-of-Honour, Senator Christopher Lawrence Tesoro Go of the Republic of the Philippines, noted the importance of information sharing in the mission to combat piracy and armed robbery against ships at sea.

Mr. Masafumi Kuroki, Executive Director of ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre, noted that
one of the key objectives of the Cluster Meeting in Manila was to chart the next course of actions to be taken to further reduce the risks faced by the shipping industry when operating in the Sulu Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah

Source: ReCAAP ISC

Army, partners bring Christmas closer to conflict-affected communities

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 20, 2019): Army, partners bring Christmas closer to conflict-affected communities (By 3rd Special Forces Battalion, Phil. Army)

MARIHATAG, Surigao del Sur, Dec. 20 -- “Despite any conflict, there is still a room for peace and love within everyone’s heart.”

This was the statement Lt. Colonel Joey Baybayan, Commanding Officer of the 3rd Special Forces “Arrowhead” Battalion, after the successful gift-giving activities in Kilometer 9, Diatagon, Lianga and in Caras-an, Tago, Surigao del Sur and in Magsaysay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur from December 14-17.

Sitio Supon of Barangay Magsaysay, Sitio Simowao (Kilometer 9), Diatagon and Barangay Caras-an are homes for Indigenous Peoples (IPs), mostly Manobo tribes. Caras-an is approximately 50 kilometers away from the municipality proper of Tago. All barangays are traditional routes of Communist NPA Terrorists (CNTs).

“No road is long and no mountain is high if we are sincere to bring sustainable and genuine peace in these conflict-affected areas,” Lt. Col. Baybayan said.

The collaborative efforts of the various agencies and private organizations exemplified the Whole-of-Nation Approach to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

The 7th Special Forces “Spartan” Company; 8th Special Forces “Dragoons” Company; 9th Special Forces “Hounds” Company; 41st CMO Company; PNP personnel; local government units (LGUs) of Prosperidad, Tago and Lianga; Philippine National Red Cross Agusan and Surigao del Sur Chapters; ACDI Multi-Purpose Cooperative; Philippine Army Finance Center Producers Integrated Cooperative; Armed Forces and Police Mutual Benefit Association, Inc (AFPMBAI); Rotary Club San Francisco Chapter; DSWD Regional Rehabilitation Center for Youth; Propelling our Inherited Nation Through our Youth (POINTY) Agusan and Surigao del Sur Chapters; and the Bureau of Customs produced and distributed the goods, mostly toys, school supplies and Noche Buena packages to around 1,000 beneficiaries.

“There is no substitute for your families, we call on the remaining NPAs to surrender and think about their families. To live life in peace with your families despite the hardships in life is better than living with corrupt NPA leaders and terrorists because they never value family as they continually recruit minors and take them away from their parents,” Lt. Col. Baybayan ended.

Meanwhile, NPA terrorists attacked the government forces, civilians, including children, in an ambush last December 13 in Borongan, Eastern Samar, leaving 3 killed and 14 seriously injured. This caused the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to condemn the NPA terrorists and outraged the LGU of Borongan. NPA terrorists involved are allegedly minors and were recruited from various schools through alleged NPA-linked militant front groups and party lists. (Lt. Krisjuper Andreo Punsalan, 3SFBn/PIA-Surigao del Sur)

Davao de Oro brgy declares CPP-NDF-NPA as persona non grata

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 20, 2019): Davao de Oro brgy declares CPP-NDF-NPA as persona non grata (By Michael L. Uy)

MACO, Davao de Oro, Dec. 20 (PIA) - Days before Christmas, a barangay in Maco, Davao de Oro declared through a resolution, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) – New People’s Army (NPA) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) as persona non grata.

Through a formal declaration on Friday, the residents of Barangay Manipongol, Maco expressed their desire to unwelcome the communist groups in their area by signing in the Barangay Council Resolution No. 10, series of 2019 – the first in the province of Davao de Oro.

Manipongol located around 15 kilometers from the poblacion, was a known stronghold of different armed groups since 1970s.

Former barangay captain Lito Makunlay disclosed that two armed groups have settled in the barangay that time, the Bangsamoro Army and the New People’s Army.

In his 24-year stint as the village chief from 1983 to 2007, Makunlay said that the armed groups flourished in their area due to some abuses of the military then. He even has relatives that were recruited by the communist movement and were reported to have been killed in encounters in other provinces.

The worst gun battle he recalled was last September 16, 1989 between around 200 NPA members and 60 government forces backed up by four military choppers.

The battle forced the residents to evacuate around 12 kilometers away from the village. Until now, people are still residing in the evacuation area, which they now called the Mansaka Village.

Makunlay also bared that due to the persistent mass organization of the left movement, a shadow government was also established and supported the cause of the rebel groups.

He said the presence of the armed group slowly diminished, when the military immersed to the barangay for community-based interventions, together with the local government unit.

Now, barangay captain Vicente Ibasitas said that to sustain the peace and order in their village, the more than 270 households or around 2,000 residents will help each other to chide off lawless elements disturbing their area, especially the CPP-NDF-NPA.

Mayor Alvera Veronica Rimando commended the barangay residents for the bold declaration, adding that Manipongol will now set the tone for other barangays to have their own pronouncement as well.

Despite the signing, Rimando reminded the community to be united saying, “kung naay panaghiusa ug kooperasyon, naay kalinaw.” (if there is unity and cooperations, there is peace.)

Rimando also stressed the legacy programs of her administration, which include Maco Unity Card for any financial assistance to be given to Maco residents only, and programs for solo parents and families with differently-abled children.

“Rest assured na ang kaning deklarasyon, sugod ra ni. Anaa naman dinhi ang gobiyerno ug army ug kami kanunay na mohatag ug serbisyo kaninyo,” she said. (Rest assured that this declaration is just the start. We already have here our government and army, who will constantly provide you with services.)

In support to the programs of the mayor, Col. John Oberio, commander of the 1001st Infantry Brigade, emphasized the whole of government and whole of nation approach encapsulated in the Executive Order 70 of President Rodrigo Duterte to end local communist armed conflicts.

“Our President is committed to put an end on this more than 50-year insurgency problem of our nation, pooling all agencies and its government resource.”

Oberio also committed to study the placement of a detachment group near the village to assist in the defense system of the barangay and other community development activities.

The brigade commander also urged the community to help the government and the military convince their family, relatives, and friends who are members of the rebel group to surrender.

“Daghan nag programa para sa magbalik sa sabakan sa gobiyerno, apil na dinhi ang E-CLIP,” he said. (There are lot of programs for those who are going to go back to the fold of the government, including the E-CLIP.) (PIA 11, Michael Uy)

PRO-Cor in full alert for the holidays

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 20, 2019): PRO-Cor in full alert for the holidays (By Redjie Melvic M. Cawis)

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LA TRINIDAD, Benguet, Dec. 20(PIA) -- The Police Regional Office – Cordillera is on heightened alert status for the holiday season.

Brigadier General Israel Ephraim Dickson said more than 6,000 police men and women of the PRO-Cor are ready to respond to any eventuality that may occur during the Christmas holidays.

The alert condition ensures the readiness of the units to respond to contingencies and police emergencies that are perennially associated with the traditional observance of the Yuletide Season including the traditional exodus of people from the urban centers to the provinces, religious practices, festive atmosphere, and high-economic activity.

PRO-Cor Regional Director Brigadier General Israel Ephraim Dickson assures readiness of the police force in the Cordillera region during the holiday season as they will be on a full alert status until January 6, 2019 (RMC- PIA-CAR)

Dickson explained that the full alert status will also be for the anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines on December 26.

"Usually gumagawa ng celebration ng mga yan in the form of atrocities that could be inflicted on the government forces or vital installations. Itong full alert na ito, tamang tama din para mapaghandaan natin yun at mapag patrolan ang mga expected na pwedeng atakehin ng ating mga kalaban,” he said.

Meanwhile, Regional Mobile Force Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mario Mayames Jr., said he canceled all leave applications and privileges of the members of his unit who are assigned in combat operations this holiday season.

On Monday, PNP Deputy Chief for Operations, Police Lt. Gen. Pancratius Cascolan announced that the readiness and preparedness of the PNP in the field, most specifically those who will be conducting operations at the same time staying for the Christmas season in media briefing in Camp Crame.

Cascolan presented the PNP Paskuhan 2019 which is an operational plan that employs the Enhanced-Managing Police Operations Strategy that encompasses other operational campaigns on law enforcement and public safety, primarily internal security, considering that the local communist movement celebrates the founding anniversary of the CPP every December 26th which is historically amplified with increased hostilities by the communist New People’s Army.

He said the Paskuhan 2019 will also address law enforcement issues on illegal firecrackers and the dangerous practice of celebratory gunfire in the holiday revelry. (JDP/RMC- PIA CAR)

Government benefits available for former rebels

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 20, 2019): Government benefits available for former rebels (By Susan C. Aro)

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BAGUIO CITY, Dec. 20 (PIA) - - Benefits are available for rebels who join the folds of the law accessed under the government’s whole of nation approach program to end local armed conflict (ELCAC).

Department of Interior and Local Government Cordillera (DILG-CAR) Regional Director Marlo Iringan said there are still benefits for former rebels (FRs) supposed to be accessed from some concerned agencies.

He bared this in the recently convened meeting under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) cluster members of the Cordillera Regional Task Force-End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC).

In the past, there were funds downloaded to the DILG Regional Office under the CLIP program but were hardly touched as there were only few rebels who surrendered, Iringan said. Rebel returnees were extended financial assistance, re-integration assistance, processing and administrative cost.

Under the ECLIP, benefits were expanded which included identified assistance from the different national government agencies and were given priority.

Department of Interior and Local Government Cordillera (DILG-CAR) Regional Director Marlo Iringan said he is looking forward to smooth working relationship among the cluster members in the implementation of the programs for the former rebels. (SCA-PIA-CAR)

Local Government Monitoring and Evaluation Division Chief Marleen Guerzon said there are documentary requirements for the FR to acquire reintegration assistance, immediate assistance and livelihood such as a certification tagged as Joint Armed Forces of the Philippines – Philippine National Police (JAPIC) which is the source of an authenticity of an FR and also an E-CLIP enrollment form.

For the National Housing Authority, there are 30 identified FR beneficiaries who can avail in either of the packages such as house construction worth P450, 000.000, house repair worth P100, 000.00 or lot purchase worth P450, 000.

Other agencies that extend assistance to FRs are the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for skills training, the Department of Agriculture, Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process under the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Education among others.

Iringan said the government hopes to “provide light to FRs who have been in darkness for so long, provide gladness in their hearts when they are not able to stand on their own. We will see to it that pardon will come, and that we contribute in making their lives better.” (JDP/SCA-PIA CAR)

Army condemns NPA recruitment as another minor dies in encounte

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 20, 2019): Army condemns NPA recruitment as another minor dies in encounter (By 58th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army)

CLAVERIA, Misamis Oriental, Dec. 20 -- LtCol. Roy Anthony O. Derilo, commanding officer of 58th Infantry Battalion expressed grief and sympathies to the family and friends of the slain 17-year old member of the New People's Army (NPA) who died in an encounter this week.

"We will give him respect and decent preparation for his burial and deliver him to his family," Derilo said while condemning NPA's exploitation of youth. "Our children belong in schools, with their classmates and friends and not in the company of armed men. Give them a chance to achieve their aspirations and be successful in life," he added.

On December 19, troops from the 58th Infantry Battalion encountered about five NPA members under the platoon PPH, Sub-Regional Committee 1 (SRC1), North Central Mindanao Regional Command (NCMRC) in an inhabited hinter area of Mt. Balatukan in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental

The firefight lasted for about 15 minutes after which the enemies scampered towards different directions.

The troops seized the dead body of the minor combatant along with one caliber .45 pistol, one improvised explosive device (IED), 100 meters wire, three blasting cap, one cellphone, and assorted personal belongings.

The dead body was dentified by former rebels who are also his relatives as alias Rogie, from So Lantad, Barangay Kibanban, Balingasag, a member of the Platoon PPH, SRC1, NCMRC.

Alias Mesay, a former NPA political instructor, said alias Rogie was recruited two years ago at So Kamansi, Barangay Kibanban, Balingasag when he was still 15 years old.

It can be recalled that on November 30, 2019, an NPA minor was also killed in Agusan Norte. The International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Act which prohibits the recruitment of minors as child warriors. Rule 136 of the law states that "Children must not be recruited into the armed forces or armed groups" which was again violated by the heartless NPA recruiting minors. (58th IB)

DILG MisOr turns over check for E-CLIP halfway house construction

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 20, 2019): DILG MisOr turns over check for E-CLIP halfway house construction (By Department of Interior and Local Government)

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Dec. 20 – In pursuance to sustainable peace under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Misamis Oriental turned over a check amounting to Php 5 million to the Provincial Government of Misamis Oriental for the construction of the Halfway House.

The halfway house will serve as a facility for former rebels (FRs) in conducting rehabilitation, healing sessions, and education and skills training activities.

E-CLIP is a complete package of assistance to FRs that provides a wide array of benefits based on the particular needs of the FRs such as financial assistance, shelter, education, skills training, healthcare, and legal assistance through a convergence of various national and local government agencies.

Recipients of the program are members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army (NPA), and National Democratic Front (NDF) who have expressed the desire to abandon armed violence and become productive members of the society, including their immediate family members.

Eng. Marisia C. Naybe, DILG MisOr provincial director, spearheaded the turn-over during the 4th Joint Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC), Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC), and Provincial Anti-Drug Abuse Council (PADAC) Meeting.

Naybe also presented the accomplishments on the recently conducted “Kalinaw sa Amihanang Mindanao” on November 28, 2019.

“DILG MisOr continues to be one of the forefronts in fulfilling sustainable peace in our community, especially in the Province of Misamis Oriental. We want to become transparent and resilient in bringing out the best services for our FRs,” said Naybe.

Members of the council namely the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), and Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) also presented their security and disaster preparedness plans for the upcoming Yuletide season.

Another highlight of the meeting was the tribute and awarding of the Plaque of Valor to MisOr’s Police Senior Master Sergeant Jason Magno which was spearheaded by Misamis Oriental Provincial Governor Yevgeny Vincente Emano. As part of the governing body in the Province of MisOr, DILG MisOr also awarded the same plaque which was received by his youngest daughter. (DILG MisOr)

QC ops 'devastating blow' to communist movement: AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 20, 2019): QC ops 'devastating blow' to communist movement: AFP (By Priam Nepomuceno)

AFP spokesperson, Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo. (File photo)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday called the recent successful neutralization of two ranking leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) in Quezon City as a devastating blow to the communist movement.

"The AFP, together with its PNP (Philippine National Police) counterparts, has struck yet another devastating blow to one of the groups that is determined to carry out liquidation missions against government officials from the security sector in Manila and other key cities,"
said AFP spokesperson, Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, in a message to reporters.

The rebel leaders, identified as Eleuterio Sadyaw Agmaliw alias "Omeng", leader of the "Kilusang Larangan Gerilya ng Sierra Madre"; and Freddie Daileg alias "Poldo", Deputy Secretary Larangan Gerilya Platun 1 of Central Luzon Regional Committee; died
when they shot it out with lawmen serving the warrants for their arrest around 3: 30 a.m. Thursday.

Also killed in the operation was an unidentified companion of the two
while wounded were two police officers.

"Residents near their safehouse in Damong Maliit, Novaliches were relieved to know that these fugitives who are wanted for destructive arson, murder, frustrated murder, and rebellion were neutralized," Arevalo added.

The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

"The AFP will be unrelenting in our operations to get these terrorists lurking in the outskirts of the city waiting for the opportune time to strike," he said.

Arevalo also lauded the people in the community for the valuable information and the diligence and dedication of Filipino soldiers and policemen that led to the successful operation.

Recovered from the slain rebel leaders were a loaded M-16 automatic rifle; two pistols with loaded magazines; two fragmentation grenades; components for an improvised explosive device; cellphones; a laptop and subversive documents.

PCG’s most modern ship flies PH flag for first time

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 20, 2019): PCG’s most modern ship flies PH flag for first time (By Raymond Carl Dela Cruz)

BRP GABRIELA SILANG. The BRP Gabriela Silang during the Change of Flag Ceremony for the Philippine Coast Guard vessel in France on Thursday (Dec. 19, 2019). The ceremony officially designated the vessel as under the ownership of the Philippines. The vessel is expected to reach Manila on Feb. 10, 2020. (Photo courtesy of PCG)

The Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) newest and largest offshore patrol vessel (OPV) is now officially under the ownership of the country after it flew the Philippine flag for the first time on Thursday.

In a Facebook post on Friday, the PCG said
the 83-meter BRP Gabriela Silang, which was built by French shipbuilder OCEA, had its Change of Flag Ceremony that was led by Philippine Ambassador to France Ma. Theresa Lazaro.

“Ambassador Lazaro represented the DOTr (Department of Transportation) and the PCG in the historic event, which marks the first time the OPV will be flying the national flag, and will now be under the official ownership of the Republic of the Philippines,”
the post read.

The OPV is scheduled to depart from France on December 30 with its 35-strong personnel and crew from the PCG and is expected to arrive in Manila on Feb. 10, 2020.

Last month, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade approved the provisional acceptance of the OPV through BRP Gabriela Silang’s incoming commanding officer, PCG Commander Alberto Ferre, in the signing of the vessel’s certificate in France.

The BRP Gabriela Silang was commissioned for the PCG by the DOTr. Its design was based on the OPV-270 Mk. II that was first unveiled in Euronaval 2014.

The ship was also the first OPV acquired by the Philippines and the most modern vessel of the PCG.

DND fetes soldier-athletes in SEA Games

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 20, 2019): DND fetes soldier-athletes in SEA Games (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Soldier-athletes who participated in the just-concluded 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games were formally awarded for their efforts, which contributed 54 medals for the Philippine delegation.

The awards were presented by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during a thanksgiving ceremony held at the Dimalupig Hall, AFP Commissioned Officers Club in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Thursday.

The 160 soldier-athletes were given the Secretary of National Defense’s Service Medal.

Among the medals contributed by the soldier-athletes were 26 golds, 15 silvers, and 13 bronzes.

These were for arnis; athletics; baseball; boxing; cycling; kurash (judo); Muaythai; obstacle course racing; rowing; sailing; sepak takraw; shooting; softball; soft tennis; taekwondo; water polo; weightlifting; and wrestling.

Meanwhile, coaches were also awarded the Military Achievement Medal for their outstanding performance and services in the SEA Games.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief-of-Staff Gen. Noel Clement, who graced the event, expressed his gratitude to the soldier-athletes and coaches for their dedication and love for sports.

“To all the soldier athletes and coaches, the dedication and the love for sports that you have shown were truly astonishing and inspiring. Your mastery of your craft and professionalism brought you to where you are now – a winner, a champion, truly pride of our country,” Clement said.

He also expressed the military’s heartfelt gratitude to the emergency preparedness and response teams, AFP security forces and reservist volunteers deployed to different venues for their “priceless efforts for the whole duration of the SEA Games.”

“For dedicating your time and energy to fill in the gaps and address the needs of the athletes, audience, organizers, thank you for doing it for your country, thank you for doing it for your fellow Filipinos. Congratulations as well. You too made us all proud,” Clement said.

About 1,000 personnel from the AFP and Philippine National Police (PNP) were also deployed as security, emergency preparedness and response teams to various events held within the Luzon region.

Also present in the ceremony were delegates of the DND, Office of the Civil Defense, Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee, and PNP, as well as senior AFP officers.

“I thank you all for coming today. This celebration is for all of you. Allow yourself to bask in that deep sense of pride and honor, bathe in that glorious feeling of fulfillment, and indulge in that splendid pleasure of celebrating something that no one can take away from you – your genuine love for your country," Clement said.

PRRD nixes coalition gov’t with communists

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 20, 2019): PRRD nixes coalition gov’t with communists (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

President Rodrigo Duterte. (Presidential Photo)

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Friday rejected the idea of forming a coalition government with the communist movement, despite his plan to revive the moribund peace talks with its political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF).

In a speech delivered in Manila, the President assured his countrymen that he would never allow the creation of a coalition government under his watch.

“Later on, I realized that nothing else would be good except to have law and order, and one government,” Duterte said.

“Alam mo, they promised anything and everything. Sumasali sa gobyerno and then sa bidding papers (They joined the government and even showed interest) towards a coalition government. Hindi mangyari ‘yan sa buhay ng ating bayan. Hindi talaga ako papayag kailanman (That will never happen in our country. I will never allow that),” he added.

Duterte has been friendly with the leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and even appointed some of those recommended by the group to key government posts.

However, his relations with the communist party turned sour, following the series of attacks waged by the CPP’s armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) against government troops and civilians.

The President was forced to sign Proclamation 360 on Nov. 23, 2017, formally ending the peace negotiations between the national government peace panel and the NDF consultants.

He also signed on Dec. 5, 2017 Proclamation 375, tagging the CPP-NPA as a terror organization because of their supposed actions “against the Filipino people, against humanity, and the law of nations.”

Apart from the Philippines, the CPP-NPA is also branded as a terror group by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Duterte, in his latest speech, warned Filipinos not to be swayed by the communist ideology, which he believes is no longer relevant in modern times.

“You know, this is our only country. At hanggang ngayon (And until now), there are people who are terrorists trying to destroy our way of life. Kayong mga bata, huwag kayong magpadala diyan sa mga ideolohiya na barat (To the youth, do not be swayed by their ideology),” he said.

Duterte’s latest statement came three days after he directed the military to crush the country’s enemies, including the communist guerillas.

On Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President is sincere to resume the talks with the communists but has to make a move to counter their terror activities.

Duterte also made the remarks after National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. disclosed on Tuesday that the President was included on the supposed hit list of the communist movement.

On Wednesday, Presidential Security Group commander, Brig. Gen. Jose Eriel Niembra, guaranteed that the Chief Executive is safe and secure, despite inclusion on the so-called hit list.

Esperon advised the public on Tuesday to take extra caution against the communist insurgents’ supposed plot to carry out “assassinations and terrorist activities” in public places, especially in urban areas, during the Yuletide season.

Duterte renews push for mandatory ROTC

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 20, 2019): Duterte renews push for mandatory ROTC (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

President Rodrigo Duterte. (File photo)

President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday renewed his call on Congress to pass the mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program in public and private senior high schools nationwide, in a bid to promote “gallantry, bravery, and spirit of volunteerism” among the Filipino youth.

“I suggest that we pass the ROTC,” Duterte said during the closing ceremony of the National ROTC Summit and the first Presidential Silent Drill Competition at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

“Sumali kayo. Requirement ‘yan bago ka maka-graduate. Tiisin mo ‘yan kasi ‘yan talaga ang buhay dapat ng estudyante ng Pilipinas (Join there. That should be a requirement before you are able to graduate. The students in the Philippines should learn how to be patient),” he said.

In June this year, Duterte certified as urgent a Senate measure mandating Grades 11 and 12 to mandatorily undergo ROTC program to "invigorate their sense of nationalism and patriotism necessary in defending the State and further promote their vital role in nation-building".

The House of Representatives in 17th Congress approved its measure reviving the mandatory ROTC for senior high school students, but the Senate failed to pass its version of the bill.

During his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22, the President cited the bill making ROTC as mandatory for high school students as among his administration’s priority measures.

ROTC used to be mandatory but later became optional and voluntary for college students following the signing of the Republic Act (RA) 9163 or the National Service Training Program (NSTP) in 2001.

ROTC, which is one of the three components of the NSTP, provides military training to motivate and train students for national defense preparedness.

NSTP’s two other components apart from ROTC are the Civic Welfare Training Service and the Literacy Training Service.

The Commander-in-Chief stressed the need for all the youth in the country to mandatorily join the ROTC program, as he admitted that the country lacks soldiers to fight the enemies of the state.

"We have to have a reserved force which can be mobilized anytime," Duterte said.

The President reiterated that the ROTC program would instill "perseverance, discipline, excellence, leadership, loyalty and patriotism" among the young Filipinos.

He also believed that the mandatory ROTC would serve as an instrument to fulfill his dream to give Filipinos a "comfortable life".

"I assure you that this administration will remain unrelenting in its mission to realize a comfortable life for all Filipinos, and I firmly believe that the values learned from the ROTC Program are vital towards achieving this goal," he said.

On Wednesday, Presidential Security Group (PSG) commander Brigadier General Jose Eriel Niembra added the plan to reinstate mandatory ROTC among students in Grades 11 and 12 is also aimed at instilling discipline among the youth.

He said the government wanted to train the Filipino youth to make them “effective rescuers or first responders for natural and manmade disasters”.

‘Aggrieved’ NPA member yields in Lake Sebu

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 19, 2019): ‘Aggrieved’ NPA member yields in Lake Sebu (By Allen Estabillo)

SURRENDER. Another “aggrieved” member of the New People’s Army (NPA) identified as alias “Gamo” surrenders on Thursday (Dec. 19, 2019) to the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion in Lake Sebu town, South Cotabato province. The rebel decided to yield following a series of negotiations facilitated by local government officials. (Photo courtesy of the Army’s 27IB)

An “aggrieved” member of the New People’s Army (NPA) surrendered on Thursday afternoon to government troops in Lake Sebu town, South Cotabato province.

1Lt. Efren Halawig, civil-military operations officer of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion (IB), said the rebel decided to yield following a series of negotiations facilitated by concerned local government officials.

Halawig said
the returnee, who was only identified as alias “Gamo,” was a member of the Platoon West of the NPA’s Sub-Regional Committee-Musa or Guerilla Front 73, Far South Mindanao Region.
Alias “Gamo” gave up an M16 Armalite rifle reportedly issued by his unit, which mainly operates in the hinterlands of Lake Sebu and the neighboring localities, he said.

Halawig said the rebel, who hails from Barangay Ned in Lake Sebu, had long been planning to surrender as he reportedly had enough of the “unfair treatment” by their leaders.

Aside from their difficult situation in the mountains, he said the rebels were reportedly forced to extort and loot from civilians in order to survive.

“This was in the guise of a scheme called Rebulosyonaryong Buwis sa Kauri at Kaaway, wherein the NPA members were used to threaten business owners and ransack their establishments to obtain food supplies,” he said, citing statements issued by the surrenderer.

Lt. Col. Jones Otida, 27IB commanding officer, said in a statement such actions mainly showed that the NPA is not “pro-people or pro-masses” as it has been espousing.

“These complemented its brand as a terrorist group,” said Otida, who personally received the returnee at their base in Barangay Kablon, Tupi town.

Otida said they will immediately process the enrolment of the former rebel into the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program.

Under the program, returnees will be given financial and livelihood assistance as well as other support interventions to facilitate their integration into the mainstream of the society.

“Our government agencies are waiting to give assistance to NPA members who desire to lay down their arms. We thank the people who accompanied us in our efforts in adding social pressure for these terrorists to finally surrender,” he added.

Gov’t gives P365-K aid to former rebels in NegOcc

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 20, 2019): Gov’t gives P365-K aid to former rebels in NegOcc (By Nanette Guadalquiver)

FINANCIAL AID. A former New People’s Army rebel (right) receives a financial aid of PHP15,000 from the Negros Occidental provincial government, in the presence of provincial director Ferdinand Panes (left) of the Department of the Interior and Local Government on Thursday (Dec. 19, 2019). The immediate assistance is provided to the recipients through the government’s Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP). (Photo courtesy of 303rd Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army)

BACOLOD CITY -- A total of PHP365,000 in various assistance has been released by the government to former rebels (FRs) in Negros Occidental through the government’s Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

The turn-over of benefits was led by provincial director Ferdinand Panes of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG)-Negros Occidental, in rites held at their office here on Thursday.

Seven former members of the New People’s Army (NPA)
received immediate assistance of PHP15,000 each, or a total of PHP105,000.

The checks, released by the provincial government, were turned over by provincial social welfare development officer Elena Serenias to the recipients.

One of the seven recipients was given additional PHP50,000 as remuneration for .45 caliber pistol he surrendered to the authorities.

A separate check of PHP210,000 as reintegration assistance was released by the DILG to the Philippine Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade (IB) represented by Maj. Franco Ver Lopez, civil-military operations head.

The amount will be used by the 15th Infantry Battalion for the subsistence or meal cost of FRs who have been placed under its protection while processing their benefits under the E-CLIP.

The E-CLIP is one of the programs under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), a body created by President Rodrigo Duterte through Executive Order No. 70.

It aims to ensure sustainable and inclusive peace and put an end to the 50-year armed conflict perpetrated by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Col. Inocencio Pasaporte, commander of 303IB based in Murcia, Negros Occidental, said the government remains sincere in helping those who have become victims of the lies and deception of the CPP-NPA.

“It is time to lay down your firearms, return to your family, and live a peaceful life in mainstream society. The government has laid down programs for you to start anew. Or else, the security forces will use all its might to hunt you down,” he added.

Col. Romeo Baleros, director of Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, echoed Pasaporte’s call for the communist rebels in the province to return to the fold of the law.

“As the TF-ELCAC is gaining momentum, we are continuously calling for the peaceful surrender of the remnant forces of the NPA in the province,” he added.

Baleros was represented by Maj. Norberto Barniso, chief of NOCPPO Police Community Affairs Development Section, during the turn-over ceremony.