Wednesday, January 29, 2020

1K NPA rebels, supporters yield to the army in NL, CL

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 30, 2020): 1K NPA rebels, supporters yield to the army in NL, CL (By Freddie G. Lazaro)

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SAN FERNANDO CITY, Jan. 29 (PIA) - - At least 1,003 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and supporters have voluntarily surrendered to the different field units of the army’s 7th Infantry Division operating in the provinces of Central and Northern Luzon for calendar year 2019.

Major Lenard T. General Agustin, the commander of the army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, cited the implementation of the ‘Whole of Nation Approach’ to end the local communist armed conflict (ELCAC) as the main reason for the voluntary surrender of these insurgents in their area of responsibilities.

“The collaborations between and among the national government agencies (NGAs) and the local government units (LGUs) as mandated by Executive Order 70 have played an active role for the end of insurgency in Central and Northern Luzon,” he said.

He said that LGUs and NGAs have worked with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for bringing an inclusive peace and sustainable development projects to the communities.

“The surrender of the 1,003 NPA rebels and supporters to our operating units in our areas of jurisdiction is a clear manifestation of the positive impact of the EO 70 in Northern and Central Luzon,” he said.

The army’s field units that worked on the voluntary surrender of these rebels and supporters were the 69th Infantry Battalion in Guimba, Nueva Ecija; the 48th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan; the 84th Infantry Battalion in Carranglan, Nueva Ecija; and the 81st Infantry Battalion in Ilocos Sur.

Upon their surrender, the rebels and their supporters were immediately assessed whether they were qualified or not to receive the benefits under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP).

Major Amado C. Gutierrez, the Officer-in-Charge of the Division Public Affairs Office (DPAO) of the army’s 7th ID, said the ECLIP is a program of the Philippine government that provides financial assistance and livelihood training for the qualified former NPA rebels and supporters.

Under the ECLIP, Gutierrez said the firearms remuneration starts at Php12,500.00 for Caliber .22 and as high as Php214,000.00 for Light M60 Machine Gun.

Meanwhile, Agustin assured the safety and security of those NPA rebels and supporters who choose to surrender to the army.

“Right now we are busy doing everything to protect our people in Central and Northern Luzon while we are encouraging the surrender of more NPA rebels and supporters,” he said.

“We are also taking extra effort in our information drives for the youth as they are easily trapped into the web of lies that the enemy weave to trigger their idealistic passions, which the rebels use it to their advantage and they even use them as child warriors,” Agustin added.

Having successfully dismantled the Komiteng Larangang Guerilla (KLG) Caraballo, a known NPA Guerilla Front operating in the tri-boundaries of Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, and Aurora, Major General Agustin eyed the eventual downfall of the KLG Sierra Madre in Region III, and the KLG South Ilocos Sur (SIS) in Region I. (JCR/FGL/PIA 1)

Stronger communities counter violent extremism

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 30, 2020): Stronger communities counter violent extremism (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

COUNTERING RADICALIZATION. Dr. Kenneth Christie, the program head of Human Security and Peacebuilding at the Royal Roads University in Canada discusses Radicalization in Southeast Asia at the University of the Philippines in Taguig, a forum organized by the Asean Society of the Philippines. Christie's work is focused on issues of de-radicalization, terrorism, and human rights as well as democratization. (PNA photo by Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

Building strong communities is one way to curb violent extremism, focusing on preventing people from adopting radical stands that lead to violence, a political scientist said.

"I think what you have to do is build strong communities, de-radicalization and trying to counter-terrorism begins with building a strong community and that means building institutions where people feel safe," visiting political scientist Dr. Kenneth Christie said in an interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Tuesday.

During his lecture at the University of the Philippines on Radicalization in Southeast Asia, a forum organized by the Asean Society of the Philippines, Christie underscored the need to address the root causes of radicalization leading to violence and the involvement of communities during an intervention.

Some of the contributing factors to radicalization are media distortion, socio-economics, foreign policy, mental health and when the civilian in target has been "otherized" or being stigmatized as someone different, he said.

"We need to know how to devise policies, how to keep people within communities and devise a strategy to work with them and prevent this radicalization, it's important all over the world as well as in Southeast Asia," he said.

While the said factors are common drivers, Christie said that their presence does not necessarily determine radicalization would occur.

"Radicalization is highly-complex and multi-faceted. I would also argue the people being radicalized don't think of themselves as being radicalized, it just seems like a process for them that they have no alternative and that they have a new identity now," he said.

For Christie, countering radicalization starts with the society giving the people a "sense of belonging" and "watching out of those who are feeling isolated and detached to communities".

"Whether it's a negative identity or a positive identity, that's not the point. They perceive it as part of their identity and we have to deal with that if we are going to resolve this issue," he added.

Christie recommended for increased funding on the youth initiatives sector, especially within the schools.

"We have to engage people in the society. And education is also an important tool for social transformation," he said.

In the Philippines, the government adopted in 2019 the National Action Plan on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism aimed at addressing violent extremism and cutting support for local terrorist groups.

The strategy maps out coordination measures between the Philippines and other nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

Christie is the program head of Human Security and Peacebuilding at the Royal Roads University in Canada and is focused on issues of de-radicalization, terrorism, and human rights.

Maute men surrender in Lanao Sur

From the Philippine Star (Jan 28, 2020): Maute men surrender in Lanao Sur (By Roel Pareño, Michael Punongbayan)

Two members of the Maute group surrendered to the military in Piagapo, Lanao del Sur over the weekend.

Farhan Salik, 20, and Alimoden Maunada, 38, turned over their caliber .30 M1 Garand rifles,
Lt. Col. Rafman Altre, 82nd Infantry Battalion (IB) commander, said.

Altre said
Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander Salic Dimasangkay and Usman Amboloto, chairman of Barangay Dado in Balindong, intervened for the surrender of the militants.

On Friday, a Maute militant was killed in an enccounter with soldiers of the 82nd IB at the border of Piagapo.

Four improvised explosive devices, two kilos of chemicals used to make bombs and an M16 rifle were among those recovered at the scene.

Kalinaw News: 6ID and JTFC holds Press Conference on 12 BIFF members who returned to the fold of the law

Posted to Kalinaw News (Jan 29, 2020): 6ID and JTFC holds Press Conference on 12 BIFF members who returned to the fold of the law (By Kalinaw News)

The 6th Infantry Kampilan Division and the JTF Central presented the 12 members of the BIFF who recently surrendered and returned to the fold of the government in a press conference presided by BGen Juvymax R Uy AFP, Assistant Division Commander on January 25, 2020 at the Kampilan Officers Clubhouse at 6ID headquarters.

The press conference was also attended by Minister Atty. Naguib Sinarimbo of the MILG, BARMM; the Local Chief Executives Mayor Al-fizzar Allandatu M Angas Jr of Sultan sa Barongis and Mayor Rafsanjani P Ali of Gen Salipada K Pendatun; BGen Efren P Baluyot, Commander 1MechBde; Col Jose Narciso, Commander 601st Bde; Commanding Officers of 40IB and 33IB; Staff Officers of 6ID and 62 former members of the BIFF who previously laid down their arms and returned to the government.

Discussed during the press conference are the support of the LGUs of the municipalities of Sultan sa Barongis and Gen SK Pendatun and the Provincial Government of Magui

ndanao as well as the upcoming support of BARMM Government to the former rebels and the proposed crafting of peace initiative programs which will benefit members of BIFF if they opt to lay down their arms, stop their struggle and return to the government.

The BARMM government thru Minister Sinarimbo gave cash assistance to the former rebels and provided sacks of rice as goodwill gesture for the initiatives of the former rebels. Certificates of Completion were also awarded to selected former BIFF members who underwent WASAR Training as initial steps into capacity building with the end view of reforming them to become responsible and productive members of their respective communities.

The JTFC leadership expressed its gratitude to the Local Chief Executives and the BARMM Government for the overwhelming support, mutual cooperation and collaborative efforts towards the journey of bringing sustainable peace and development in Central Mindanao.

Maj. Gen. Diosdado Carreon, Commander, JTFC congratulated the unit commanders for a job well done. He also encouraged them to sustain the strong partnership with the Local Government Units for prompt delivery of basic services and livelihood assistance so that more members of the BIFF will be motivated to return to the folds of the law and become productive citizens in the community.

[Kalinaw News is the official online source of information on the pursuit for peace in the Philippines This website is a property of the Civil-Military Operations Regiment, Philippine Army located at Lawton Avenue, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Contact us:]

Kalinaw News: AFP has new Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence

Posted to Kalinaw News (Jan 29, 2020): AFP has new Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence (By Public Affairs Office AFP)

CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City — Brigadier General Greg Almerol, of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Makatao” Class of 1989, took over as the Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, J2, of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during a “Change of Chief” ceremony presided by The Deputy Chief of Staff of the AFP, Lt. Gen. Erickson Gloria, on Tuesday, 28 January 2020 at Silid Lapu-Lapu, GHQ Building, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

During the ceremony, Lt. Gen. Gloria handed-over the J2 office symbol to BGen. Almerol from MGen. Reuben Basiao, who has taken over the command of the 10th Infantry Division (ID) of the Philippine Army (PA) from MGen. Jose Faustino Jr. on 25 January 2020 at Camp General Manuel T. Yan Sr., Mawab, Davao de Oro.

BGen. Almerol was former Deputy Commander of the Southern Luzon Command of the AFP and, prior to that post, he was Commander of 903rd Brigade based in the Bicol Region.

The new J2 of the AFP is also known to be a hardworking and well-rooted intelligence officer having been Chief, Central Monitoring Station of the Office Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, G2, and as the Commander, 14th Intelligence Service Unit of the Army’s Intelligence Security Group (now Army Intelligence Regiment).

He also commanded the 60th Infantry Battalion under the 10th Infantry Division in Eastern Mindanao and was Group Commander, 5th Civil Relations Group in Davao City.

MGen. Basiao, the new Commander of the Army’s 10ID, was also the former commander of the 701st Infantry Brigade, PA, based in Mati, Davao Oriental which has operational control of Davao Oriental, parts of Region 10 and Davao de Oro.

During his stint as Brigade Commander, MGen. Basiao dismantled a Guerilla front of the New People’s Army and, as a well-rounded officer, he conceptualized and implemented the Community Support Program (CSP) that aims to dismantle the organizational structure of the CPP-NPA-NDF and strengthen barangay-based institutions, organize and empower the communities, making them resilient to conflicts and any disasters of natural occurrence.

His other significant assignments in the AFP include the following: Commanding officer of 67IB and 72IB of the 10ID; Philippines Defense and Armed Forces Attaché to the Kingdom of Thailand with accreditation to Laos and Myanmar; Chief of Staff, Intelligence Service AFP (ISAFP); Assistant Division Chief of the International Affairs Division, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Plans, OJ5, in-charge of the ASEAN Affairs; and Division Chief of the Intelligence Research and Analysis Division, OJ2.

A member of the PMA “Maringal” Class of 1988, MGen. Basiao has a Masters Degree in Public Management, Major in Development and Security and in International Development and Security, both from the Development Academy of the Philippines.

He also earned his Masters of Arts in International Relations from the International University of Japan, Nigita, Japan.

[Kalinaw News is the official online source of information on the pursuit for peace in the Philippines This website is a property of the Civil-Military Operations Regiment, Philippine Army located at Lawton Avenue, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Contact us:]

Lawmakers hit VFA termination, urge DFA to give Duterte 'sound' advice

From Rappler (Jan 29, 2020): Lawmakers hit VFA termination, urge DFA to give Duterte 'sound' advice (By Sofia Tomacruz)

'Are we going to sacrifice the gains that we have made with the US-Philippine relationship just because of the cancellation of the visa of one senator?' asks Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel

BALIKATAN. Philippine and US soldiers hold an amphibious exercise during the 2019 Balikatan exercise in Zambales on April 11, 2019. Photo by Lito Boras/Rappler

Two congressmen on Wednesday, January 28, criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to terminate the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement, calling it a “knee-jerk” reaction that endangered national security.

In a House committee on foreign relations hearing, Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel and Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez expressed alarm over Duterte’s plan to scrap the VFA after he was angered by the cancellation of Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa.

Both lawmakers warned of the “severe repercussions” of the Duterte government’s decision to terminate the agreement considering it was linked to other defense deals, US assistance to the Philippine military, and relief efforts during calamities, among others. 

(READ: 'Good move': Locsin hails Duterte's threats to scrap VFA)

“Are we going to sacrifice the gains that we have made with the US-Philippine relationship just because of the cancellation of the visa of one senator?” asked Pimentel, who is Surigao 2nd District Representative

Pimentel noted the Philippine government’s seeming double standard in calling out travel restrictions after it stayed silent on Beijing's decision to bar former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario from entering Hong Kong in July 2019.

"The Philippine government did not raise a furor. We did not even defend these two very important former government officials. But here comes a senator whose visa was canceled and we are going to scrap a very important agreement. This will have very severe repercussions on our relationship with the US,” he said.

Rodriguez, for one, noted that Duterte should reconsider his actions on the ground that terminating the VFA “will be inimical to the national interest and national security.”

Careful review and response. Department of Foriegn Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Maria Isleta, who heads the department’s office of American affairs, sought to assure lawmakers that the several agencies, including the Department of Justice, were assessing the impact of scrapping the VFA.

Iselta said initial discussions on the matter have fleshed out 3 main issues that needed further consultation. These included the establishment of proper procedures to terminate the VFA, a review of the benefits and cost of the VFA, and an assessment on the impact on Philippine defense and the economy.

Apart from this, Isleta added meetings were also being scheduled at the " highest level" to come up with a recommendation for the President.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez aired concerns over the possibility that the US could withdraw from defense pacts like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the overarching Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), where the Philippines and US agree to defend one another in case of an attack. 

(READ: Malacañang downplays possibility of U.S. terminating other military pacts)

Isleta said that based on preliminary discussions, if the VFA is terminated, the "MDT may remain valid but inoperative." This is because the VFA gives substance to the MDT, which required joint exercises be held between the two countries' militaries to ensure they could work together when needed.

Sound advice needed. Lawmakers appealed to DFA officials to provide sound recommendations to Duterte.

"I hope DFA officials, you are the soldiers there, please make the very good recommendation that it will not only affect one person but please, think of all the 100 million people of the Philippines that might be affected with this revocation of the VFA," Pimentel said.

Rodriguez echoed this, saying "As far as DFA is concerned, we should be united in being able to present to the president that scrapping the VFA is not in the interest of our country."

Cop killed in NegOr

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 29, 2020): Cop killed in NegOr (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

Two motorcycle-riding suspects shot and killed a 47-year-old policeman at about 7 last night along the national highway of Brgy. Tapon Norte in San Jose town of Negros Oriental.

The victim was identified by Col. Julian Entoma, officer-in-charge of the Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office, as Police Executive Master Sgt. Roldan Esmajer, who died while being treated at the Silliman Medical Center in Dumaguete City, 45 minutes after he was shot.

Police investigation showed that Esmajer, a member of the San Jose Police Station, was on his way to the police station, on board his Honda motorcycle, when he was shot by his assailant, who was on another motorcycle, without any apparent reason.

The victim succumbed to three gunshot wounds in his abdomen and chest, the Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office reported.

Entoma said they are looking into the involvement of the NPA Special Partisan Unit, as among the suspects in the killing of Esmajer.

The two suspects were described by witnesses to be wearing jackets and black helmets. They were also reported to be riding on a 150cc Suzuki Raider motorcycle.

Responding policemen failed to recover any fired cartridges at the scene of incident.*

1 cop killed as police general is unscathed in NPA ambush in Bukidnon

From MindaNews (Jan 29, 2020): 1 cop killed as police general is unscathed in NPA ambush in Bukidnon (By FROILAN GALLARDO)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 29 Jan) – A policeman was killed when suspected communist rebels ambushed early Wednesday a three-car convoy of a police general who was inspecting police stations in Talakag, Bukidnon.

Talakag, Bukidnon. Map courtesy of Google

Col. Ruel Lami-ing, Bukidnon police director, said three security escorts of Brig. Gen. Joselito Salido, deputy director of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operation in Eastern Mindanao, were wounded when they were ambushed by the rebels in Barangay Dominorog in Talakag at 6:45 a.m.

He identified the slain policeman as Corporal Ro Sumaylo, who died on the spot.

Lami-ing said Salido safely got out from the ambush site and proceeded to nearby Barangay San Rafael. Salido was reportedly inspecting the police municipal station when the ambush took place.

Lami-ing said Capt. Ramil Gighie, head of Salido’s escorts, was wounded along with two others.

He said police stopped all vehicular traffic in Talakag as governt troops pursued the band of communist rebels that ambushed the police convoy.

Heavily armed policemen established a checkpoint at the road juction between the municipality of Lantapan and Dominorog to stop all vehicular traffic.

Three police and military trucks were seen by reporters going to the ambush site in Barangay Dominorog.

The police also recovered the cars of the convoy, including the bullet-riddled Toyota Hilux of Gighie and his men. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)

Bullet-riddled police car recovered from ambush site in Barangay Dominorog, Talakag, Bukidnon on Wednesday (29 January 2020). Photo courtesy of Menzie Montes/RMN-IFM

NPA ambush leaves 4 casualties in Bukidnon

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 29, 2020): NPA ambush leaves 4 casualties in Bukidnon

Communist insurgents ambushed a police convoy on Wednesday leaving four casualties in the southern Philippine province of Bukidnon, officials said.

Officials said the attack in Talakag town killed Corporal Roel Sumaylo. Three other policemen were wounded in the New People's Army ambush.

Insurgents opened fire on the convoy
carrying Brigadier General Joselito Salido, the deputy chief of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in eastern Mindanao. It was not immediately known if Salido was hurt in the ambush in the village of Dominorog.

The names of the wounded were not released by the police. They were taken to hospital in Cagayan de Oro City.

The attack occurred just as President Rodrigo Duterte is convincing the insurgents to resume peace talks with the government. Communist leaders were demanding the release of all jailed insurgents across the country before it could reopen peace negotiations with Duterte's government.

There was no immediate statement from the NPA, but security forces were dispatched to hunt down the ambushers. (Rhoderick Beñez)

Government convergence projects pour to Can-avid barangays

From the Philippine  Information Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Government convergence projects pour to Can-avid barangays (By Ninfa Barcena-Quirante)

BORONGAN CITY, Jan. 29 (PIA) -- The government convergence projects are pouring in to Brgys. Boco, Pandol and Balagon in Can-avid town.

In the Task Force –End Local Armed Conflict (TF-ELCAC) for Can-avid town, the national government agencies, some civil society organizations met with Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone and other regional directors, provincial directors, municipal employees and officials of Brgys. Pandol, Boco and Balagon.

E. Samar Governor Ben Evardone vowed to give scholarships, road and electrification to distant barangays in Can-avid town as he joined the Can-avid TF ELCAC headed by Mayor Gil Norman Germino. (Photo by Imelda Bonifacio)

The so called PBB (Pandol-Boco and Balagon) barangays have been considered barangays in conflict by the security forces, prompting the provincial and municipal governments to focus interventions in these distant areas.

The three barangays can be reached through Can-avid River for 3-5 hours mechanized boat ride upstream.

The convergence meeting resulted to the conduct of the Retooled Community Service Program (RCSP), these teams will undergo immersion activities in order to assess the peace and development gaps of the said barangays and come up with Barangay Development Plans.

The governor vowed to finance the P2 million electrification program for some sitios and barangays within the PBB areas without power yet.

He also said that the construction of the road-gap between Can-ilay to Salvacion will be shouldered by the provincial government through a P24 million fund downloaded to DA GAA 2020 for Balagon and Pandol road opening.

He also promised that he will extend scholarships to college students from the three barangays.

Imelda Bonifacio of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process - Regional Unit said the office has P3 million for the construction of a multi-purpose hall and water system.

"These were identified in the 2019 CSP teams," Bonifacio said.

The National Housing Authority also promised to award the former rebels who will surrender to the government, houses worth P450,000 each, and if the former rebel has a house, he may opt to repair or improve the same with a P100,000 grant.

Truly, EO Number 70 has been employing the whole-of -ation approach to winning the peace, said OPAPPRU Manager Bonifacio. (nbq/ PIA 8 with OPAPPRU)

Tagalog News: NGOs, ahensiya sa Caraga, nagpulong ukol sa pagsugpo ng insurhensiya

From the Philippine  Information Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Tagalog News: NGOs, ahensiya sa Caraga, nagpulong ukol sa pagsugpo ng insurhensiya (By Jennifer P. Gaitano)

LUNGSOD NG BUTUAN, Enero 24 (PIA) - Nagtipon-tipon ang non-government organizations (NGOs) kasama ang ibat-ibang ahensiya ng pamahalaan upang talakayin ang mga kinakaharap na isyu at concern ng lipunan at makabuo ng mga naaayon na paraan upang matugunan ang mga ito.

Bahagi pa rin ang hakbang na ito ng pagpapatupad ng Executive Order 70 o ang whole-of-nation approach sa pagtugon sa mga isyu at concerns, maging ang local communist armed conflict sa rehiyon ng Caraga.

Sa nasabing pagpupulong, naging pangunahing isyu ang terorismo at violent extremism.

Ayon kay Joel Dizon, program manager ng NGO na Equal Access International, mahalaga ang pagkakaroon ng Messaging Hub sa rehiyon dahil magsisilbi itong platform para sa lahat ng sektor na sa pamamagitan ng information sharing online, radio programs, publications at iba pang aktibidad, ay maipaabot sa kanila ang mga impormasyon na dapat nilang malaman partikular na ang mga solusyon sa pagsugpo ng terorismo at violent extremism.

“Sa pamamagitan ng Media Hub, magtutulungan ang bawat sektor para sa pagpapalaganap ng tamang impormasyon at mga paraan o hakbang para sa pagtugon ng problema sa rehiyon patungkol sa insurgency at violent extremism,” ani ni Dizon.

Ayon kay Raxiey Adolfo, executive director, Surigao Youth Convergence, malaki rin ang papel ng mga kabataan sa hakbang na ito. “Hangad ng mga kabataan na makalahok sa ganitong inisyatibo ng pamahalaan kasama ang iba pang sektor upang matugunan ang magkakaibang isyu at concern sa mga barangay,” banggit niya.

Ipinaalala naman ni Erwin Mascariñas, isang journalist/ caraga correspondent mula sa Philippine Daily Inquirer at Union of Catholic Asian News, ang tungkulin at responsableng pamamahayag at pagbabalita ng media practitioners sa mga isyung kanilang tinatalakay sa paraang hindi ito mas magdulot pa ng kaguluhan sa komunidad. (JPG/PIA-Caraga)

Zambo Sur-based 1ID appoints first female battalion commander

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Zambo Sur-based 1ID appoints first female battalion commander (By Leah Agonoy)

FIRST LADY BATTALION COMMANDER. Brig. Gen. Generoso Ponio, the Army's 1st Infantry Division commander, installs Lt. Col. Janet Laurena as the unit's first battalion commander during a ceremony on Tuesday (Jan. 28, 2020). Laurena is the new commander of the division's Headquarters and Headquarters Service Battalion. (Photo courtesy of the Army's 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs Office)

PAGADIAN CITY, Zamboanga del Sur -- The 1st Infantry Division (1ID) has appointed its first female battalion commander in a ceremony on Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Janet Laurena replaced Lt. Col. Norberto Agbay as Headquarters and Headquarters Service Battalion commander. Agbay is now the acting chief of the Governance and Strategy Management Office of 1ID.

The Headquarters and Headquarters Service Battalion is in charge of the camp administration, security, and personnel support for the division.

Laurena belongs to the Officer Candidate Course Class-1997 and a graduate of Command and General Staff Course (CGSC) Class 63-2018 and Masters in Public Management major in Development and Security.

Laurena thanked Maj. Gen. Generoso Ponio, 1ID commander, for the "trust and confidence" in designating her, saying she is ready to face the challenges ahead.

“The lessons I have gained in the service on responsibility, duty, trust, and loyalty, all these I will carry all throughout my military career,” she said.

Ponio advised Laurena to show the same passion and dedication in the performance of duty in implementing the government’s initiatives and advocacies.

“Let us look forward to achieve our mission and always bear in mind the duties and responsibilities we hold,” Ponio said.

“Rest assured that the command will support you in your admin, logistics and financial endeavors,” Ponio said.

The 1ID is headquartered in Camp Major L. Sang-an, in Barangay Pulacan, Labangan town in this province.

Soldier, militiaman killed in Surigao Sur clash

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Soldier, militiaman killed in Surigao Sur clash (By Alexander Lopez)

Google map of Marihatag town, Surigao del Sur.

A soldier and a militiaman were killed in an encounter that broke out in Barangay San Isidro, Marihatag, Surigao del Sur at about 9 a.m. on Tuesday, an official said.

The firefight occurred shortly after a team, consisting of soldiers and a member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu), was dispatched to respond to reports by civilians on the presence of armed men in the area, said 1Lt. Krisjuper Andreo Punsalan, civil-military operations officer of the Army's 3rd Special Forces Battalion.

In a text message sent to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Wednesday, Punsalan said the government forces, who were on board two motorcycles, encountered about five armed men, believed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA), upon reaching Barangay San Isidro.

He said the ensuing firefight lasted five minutes, resulting in the death of two government troopers whose names were withheld because their families had yet to be notified.

Punsalan said the NPA also suffered an undetermined number of casualties before withdrawing to the mountainous part of the village.

He said after the encounter, forces of the 7th Special Forces Command immediately helped track down the NPA rebels in the area.

PNP mobile forces operational review starts in Caraga

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): PNP mobile forces operational review starts in Caraga (By Alexander Lopez)

OPERATIONAL REVIEW. The Police Regional Office in Caraga says the four-day operational review and performance audit of the mobile forces in the area has already started and will end on Friday (Jan. 31, 2020). The review aims to ascertain the operational readiness and performance of the mobile forces in the area. (Photo courtesy of PRO-13 Information Office)

The mobile forces of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the Caraga Region are now undergoing a four-day operational review and performance audit.

In a statement on Wednesday (Jan. 29), the Police Regional Office in the area (PRO-13) said the 4th Quarter 2019 review started on Tuesday (January 28) and will end on Friday (January 31).

The review is headed by Brig. Gen. Ronaldo F. De Jesus, the executive officer of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Eastern Mindanao (DIPO-EM).

Involved in the operational review are the Regional Mobile Force Battalion and the provincial mobile forces of the PNP in the Caraga Region.

“The operational review and performance audit is a quarterly activity which aims to ascertain the operational readiness and performance of the mobile forces of PROs in Eastern Mindanao,” PRO-13 police director Brig. Gen. Joselito Esquivel said.

Esquivel said the review will also determine the efficiency of the interoperability of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in cross border operations.

He added that cross border operations include the intensified internal security operations and anti-insurgency drives in Caraga Region by the PNP and the Army.

Esquivel also noted that internal security operations in Caraga are gaining headway and among its results is
the increase of the number of New People’s Army (NPA) who surrendered to authorities in the past months.

The series of surrenders, he added, also indicate the increasing popular support of the people of Caraga to the government, its programs, and services.

Rebel leader yields in Quirino

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Rebel leader yields in Quirino (By Villamor Visaya, Jr.)

Wikipedia map of Diffun town, Quirino province.

A New People’s Army (NPA) leader in Quirino Province surrendered to the police in Barangay Andres Bonifacio, Diffun town in Quirino province on Monday night, police said on Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Angelito Casimiro, Cagayan Valley regional police director,
identified the surrenderer as alias "Ka Tonton/Val/Digo", 51, leader of the NPA Platoon Uno-Northern Front of the Henry Abraham Command operating in the Cagayan area.

Ka Tonton gave himself up to the police led by Capt. Reynold Gonzales, acting Diffun police chief, and Lt. Col. Ernesto Nebalasca of the Quirino Provincial Mobile Force Company.

Col. Renato Mallonga, Quirino provincial police director, said the rebel returnee was accompanied by his wife and was held for tactical interrogation.

Casimiro has urged other communist rebels in Cagayan Valley region “to surrender and lay down their arms to the authorities and enjoy a peaceful life with their relatives.”

Leyte ex-rebels eye fresh start at Peace and Prosperity Village

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Leyte ex-rebels eye fresh start at Peace and Prosperity Village (By Gerico Sabalza)

WELCOMING EX-REBELS. President Rodrigo Duterte greets former rebels before distributing their benefits during a ceremony at the San Isidro Civic Center in San Isidro, Leyte on Thursday (Jan. 23, 2020). The government will build a resettlement site with more than 400 houses and a considerable area for livelihood activities in San Isidro town for former rebels. (Presidential photo by Karl Norman Alonzo)

A resettlement site in San Isidro, Leyte will serve as a new home to rebels in the province who surrender, live a normal life, and embrace peace and development.

The Peace and Prosperity Village is designed to be a sustainable community that will rise in more than 100 hectares of land owned by the provincial government with areas intended for housing and livelihood.

Leyte Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla said on Tuesday this is part of the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) jointly funded by the national government and local government.

“This is to ensure that surrendering communist rebels will have a holistic package of benefits such as livelihood, medical, education, and housing assistance. The government’s goal for rebel returnees is for them to help build a better nation, unite, and be one with the government,” Petilla told reporters.

Future development works in the site in Daja Daku village in San Isidro town include the construction of a health center, community center, multipurpose building, evacuation center, manpower development center, daycare center, and children’s playground.

The main component is the construction of over 400 single-detached housing units and education facility with two units of three-classroom buildings.

The livelihood area comprises almost half of the total resettlement area that will house farm breeders, layers, flattening, staff house, warehouse, and slaughterhouse.

Officials have yet to come up with the estimated cost of the project.

“We are investing in this to make sure that they will not be influenced by insurgents again. The people are the greatest resource so we must build nation-loving people,” Petilla added.

The first beneficiaries of this project are some of the 262 former rebels and Militia ng Bayan (MB) members in Leyte who received on January 24 the E-CLIP benefits and the certificate of eligibility for lot award in the resettlement site.

President Rodrigo Duterte who led the turnover of financial aid to former rebels renewed his call to rebels to lay down their arms and avail of land distribution and other government assistance.

He told the former rebels that the country could have prospered a long time ago had it not been for the armed struggle of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“We can’t solve the problem in the Philippines by revolution, it has to be evolution,” he said.

He asked them to stop fighting and pity their children who will grow up knowing only the anger they have for the government.

The NPA, which has been waging a five-decade armed struggle against the government, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

1 killed as armed men ambush police general’s convoy in Bukidnon

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): 1 killed as armed men ambush police general’s convoy in Bukidnon (By Jigger Jerusalem)

Google map of Bukidnon province.

A policeman was killed and three others were injured when armed men waylaid the convoy of a police general in a village in Bukidnon early Wednesday morning.

Lt. Col. Silvestre Asiong Jr., the Bukidnon provincial police spokesperson, said the group of Brig. Gen. Joselito Salido was waylaid somewhere in the villages of Tikalaan and Dominorog in Talakag town, Bukidnon, at around 6:40 a.m.

Salido, who was unharmed, is the deputy director of the Philippine National Police’s Directorate for Integrated Police Operation for Eastern Mindanao (DIPO-EM).

“Gen. Salido was on his way to visit the Provincial Mobile Force Companies (PMFC) in Pinamaloy, Don Carlos town when the ambuscade happened,” Asiong said.

Salido was visiting the town to conduct an inspection and check the operational readiness of the two police mobile companies stationed in the area.

Salido identified the fatality as Corporal Roel Sumaylo, and the wounded as Capt. Ramil Gighe, Senior Master Sargeant Giovanni Malinab, and Corporal Jerwin Genilla.

Asiong said it was yet to be determined if the attackers were members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

Salido's convoy, Asiong said, was supposed to use the Barangay Puerto in Cagayan de Oro en route to Bukidnon but decided to divert to Talakag town to cut travel time.

He said Salido, whose area covers the regions of Davao, Caraga and Northern Mindanao, has been going around parts of Mindanao to check the capabilities of police mobile forces under his jurisdiction.

He said Col. Roel Lamiing, Bukidnon provincial police director, has ordered the augmentation of police officers to secure the area.

Army destroys 24 firearms in Iloilo

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Army destroys 24 firearms in Iloilo (By Gail Momblan)

RENDERED USELESS. The 6th Forward Service Support Unit (6FSSU) of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division on Tuesday (Jan. 28, 2020) destroys 24 captured, confiscated, surrendered, and recovered firearms in Camp Delgado. The destruction rendered the firearms useless and would prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemies, Lt. Col. Imelda Nadala, commanding officer of 6FSSU, said. (PNA photo by Gail Momblan)

The 6th Forward Service Support Unit (6FSSU) of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) destroyed 24 captured, confiscated, surrendered, and recovered firearms in Camp Delgado here on Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Imelda Nadala, commanding officer of 6FSSU, said the 24 firearms were approved for "demilitarization" upon the review and discussion of the captured, confiscated, surrendered, and recovered disposal committee of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“When we say demilitarization, we destroy or disrupt the firearms in order to render (them) useless to prevent (them from) ending up on the hands of the enemy again,” Nadala said in a media interview.

The demilitarized firearms consisted of 12 twelve-gauge shotguns; five rifles; three pistols; two .45-caliber pistols; one M16 rifle upper receiver; and one GL 40mm. Based on the Army’s record, 22 of the destroyed firearms were unserviceable and two were serviceable.

Nadala said the firearms were turned over to the 6FSSU by the Army’s 3ID’s brigades and battalions in Negros Occidental and Panay islands.
Aside from the 24 demilitarized firearms, the 6FSSU also presented to the media 10 other firearms classified under the military assistance program (MAP).

“These are MAP items that we will turn over to the general headquarters for proper disposition,” Nadala said.

The MAP items under the 6FFSU consisted of five 5.56mm rifles; two Garand rifle upper receivers; two 5.56mm-caliber rifles; and one 30-caliber rifle. Eight of these items were unserviceable and two were serviceable.

Nadala said 10 other firearms are subject to macro etching at the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory to determine the original serial numbers and verify their ownership.
“These firearms under the 6FSSU (had been) accumulated since 2016,” he said.

Capt. Cenon Pancito III, spokesperson of the 3ID, meanwhile, said the destruction of the firearms is done based on coordination with and request from the 6FSSU.

“With our coordination with the FSSU, it (firearms) adds up in number, (so) we have to demilitarize these items. It is also to free up our storage and at the same time (to eliminate) the possibility for these to be on the hands of the enemies,” Pancito said.

Aside from the 6FSSU, other demilitarization processes were also done by the 3ID.

In September last year, 315 long and short firearms from the Western and Central Visayas were also demilitarized by the 3ID in Camp Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz.

Army, Shariff Aguak LGU join hands vs. violent extremism

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Army, Shariff Aguak LGU join hands vs. violent extremism (By Edwin Fernandez)

NO TO EXTREMISM. Army Colonel Jose Narciso, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, emphasizes that violent extremism should have no place in peaceful communities of the province, during Wednesday's (Jan. 28, 2020) symposium in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao. Officials of Shariff Aguak, led by Mayor Marop Ampatuan, vowed to work closely with the military to prevent violent extremism in the municipality. (Photo courtesy of the Army’s 601IB)

Officials of Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao pledged Wednesday to work closely with government forces in eradicating extremism and illegal drugs in the area.

Shariff Aguak Mayor Marop Ampatuan vowed to "use all resources" of the local government to prevent the spread of violent extremism in the place and the near environs.

"The LGU of Shariff Aguak will be your partner in eradicating violent extremism and drug-related problems in the 601st Infantry Brigade area of operation,” the mayor said during Wednesday’s military-organized Islamic symposium at the municipal gymnasium.

The symposium was anchored on the theme "Mamamayan Nagkakaisa Laban sa Violent Extremism at Ilegal na Droga Tungo sa Mapayapa at Maunlad na Bayan”.

Ampatuan added that together with the different sectors in the municipality, they will "religiously implement and adhere to the advocacies" of the national government.

Colonel Jose Narciso, the Army's 601st Infantry Brigade commander, welcomed the mayor's statement, saying the safety of every resident of Shariff Aguak and nearby areas is their primary concern.

“Please help so we can help you,” Narciso said, as he urged local residents to alert authorities on recruitment activities by the Islamic State-linked Dawlah Islamiya and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in their communities.

During the symposium, local officials of Barangays Poblacion Mother, Labu-Labu Mother, Satan, and Bagong Upam turned over to Narciso an assortment of firearms they collected in support to the military’s disarmament campaign.

The surrendered firearms included an M16 rifle, five .45-caliber pistols, and a Magnum .357 pistol.

Narciso also lauded military units under the 601st brigade for their active roles in preventing violent extremism in their respective areas of operation.

“Let us all embrace the milestone of peace towards peaceful and progressive Maguindanao,” Narciso said.

4 NPA combatants yield to Army in Surigao Sur

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): 4 NPA combatants yield to Army in Surigao Sur (By Alexander Lopez)

FORMER REBELS. Lt. Col. Warren Munda, commander of the Army's 75th Infantry Battalion, welcomes the four members of the communist New People’s Army who surrendered in Barangay Maharlika, Bislig City, Surigao del Sur on January 27, 2020. Munda called on the remaining rebels in the hinterlands to return to the fold of the law. (Photo courtesy of 75IB)

The Army’s 75th Infantry Battalion reported Wednesday (January 29) the surrender of four regular members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Surigao del Sur.

Lt. Col. Warren Munda, 75IB commander, identified the four NPA rebels with their aliases as “Lupin”, “Randy”, “Gaston”, and “Dongkoy,” who were assigned to the Guerrilla Front 14 (GF-14), North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC), of the NPA.

Munda said the surrenderers turned over firearms and ammunition when they yielded in Barangay Maharlika, Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, on January 27.

The Army official welcomed the surrender of the four NPA rebels, saying the government is always open and ready to accept rebels who would decide to return to the fold of the law.

“We will help you to start anew, and together we will help each other bringing high hopes for our community to be more developed and peaceful,” Munda said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

In the same statement, one of the former rebels identified as “Lupin” said they could no longer bear the hardships they experience in the hinterlands of Surigao del Sur.

Lupin said they were also motivated to yield because of their desire to reunite with their families.

Munda said the four former rebels will be enrolled in the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) for them to receive immediate cash and livelihood assistance as well as remuneration for the surrendered firearms.

Almerol named acting AFP deputy chief for intel

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Almerol named acting AFP deputy chief for intel (By Priam Nepomuceno)

NEW ACTING DEPUTY CHIEF FOR INTEL. Brig. Gen. Greg Almerol (left) takes over as the new acting deputy chief-of-staff for intelligence (J-2) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in a ceremony presided by Deputy Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Erickson Gloria (center) on Wednesday (Jan. 29, 2020). Almerol replaced Maj. Gen. Reuben Basiao, who was named commander of the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. (Photo courtesy of AFP Public Affairs Office)

 Brig. Gen. Greg Almerol will assume as acting Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deputy chief-of-staff for intelligence (J-2).

"Brig. Gen. Greg Almerol, of Philippine Military Academy ‘Makatao’ Class of 1989, takes over as the acting deputy chief of staff for intelligence, J2 vice Maj. Gen. Reuben Basiao, who has taken over the command of (the) 10th Infantry Division, Philippine Army from Maj. Gen. (Jose) Faustino,"
AFP spokesperson, Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, said on Wednesday.

Before his appointment, Almerol served as deputy commander of the Southern Luzon Command based in Lucena, Quezon and commander of the 903rd Brigade based in Bicol.

"He is also known to be a hard-working and well-rooted intelligence officer having been chief, Central Monitoring Station of the Office Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, G-2 and as the commander, 14th Intelligence Service Unit of the Army’s Intelligence Security Group (now Army Intelligence Regiment)," Arevalo said.

Almerol also commanded the 60th Infantry Battalion under the 10th Infantry Division in Eastern Mindanao and was group commander of the 5th Civil Relations Group in Davao City, Arevalo added.

Gov’t urged to cancel Left-linked party-list groups' registration

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Gov’t urged to cancel Left-linked party-list groups' registration (By Lade Jean Kabagani)

DISQUALIFY THEM. Anti-communist groups on Wednesday (January 29) stage a rally in front of the Commission on Elections main office in Intramuros, Manila. They are supporting the petition to cancel the registration of Makabayan bloc in Congress for allegedly being a front of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front. (PNA Photo by Lade Kabagani)

Anti-communists groups called on Wednesday the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to cancel the registration of party-list groups that are identified with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

Members of the League of Parents of the Philippines (LPP), Hands-off Our Children, and La Liga Independencia staged a rally outside the Comelec main office in Intramuros, Manila to support the petition filed by Angela Aguilar, a former CPP cadre and ACT member, before the poll body April last year.

The petition urged the Comelec to revoke the registration of party-list groups Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan, Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Kabataan, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Action, General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms.

It also named former Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares as an individual respondent.

The anti-communist groups believe that these party-list organizations are manipulating the House of Representatives to accumulate funds to sustain the armed movement.

LPP chair Remy Rosadio said granting the petition would also halt the recruitment of the communists among youth.

“Our (parents) call are not just hearsays, we have proofs. We have evidence that these members of Makabayan bloc are just using their positions, and the government funds to recruit our children to become members of the communist groups,” she said.

She also cited the alleged involvement of Makabayan bloc to disappearances of the students who were said to be recruited by the communists and brought to the mountains.

“One of our members in LPP still grieve for her child currently cuddled by the Makabayan bloc,” she added, noting that the militant groups are just using the students for their own interests.

She said these organizations are instilling hatred into the minds of the students against the government, teaching them communist ideologies.

The progressive party-lists groups are the training grounds for the new recruits before becoming full-time members of the CPP-NPA-NDF, she added.

Meanwhile, LPP member, Dario Sandoval said the government should stop the people "behind the progressive movement" who bring their children into the mountains.

"We call the government to disqualify the Makabayan bloc. There are many grounds against them, they don’t deserve the seats in Congress. They’re not doing anything for our country,” he said, noting that the militant groups are active supporters of the communists.

He said Makabayan bloc members are shielding the communist movement, adding that, “protecting these communists will destroy our children’s future.”

“Instead of helping the country, these groups are explicitly helping the communists using the government funds,” he said.

LPP leader Nolan Tiongco said their group is more determined to continue with the protest and show their eagerness to support to end communism in the country.

The anti-communist groups said Comelec has "motu propio" (on its own) powers, citing Republic Act No. 7941, or otherwise known as the “Party-lits System Act”.

Under the law, the Comelec has the power to cancel groups’ registration when acting as “advocates of violence or unlawful means to seek its goal” and “violates or fails to comply with laws, rules or regulations relating to elections.”

The CPP-NPA, which was founded by exiled leader Jose Maria Sison, was declared by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines as a terrorist group.

Navy eyes decommissioning of 'legacy' ships by 2021

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Navy eyes decommissioning of 'legacy' ships by 2021 (By Priam Nepomuceno)

DECOMMISSIONED. The Philippine Navy formally decommissioned the BRP Rizal (PS-74) in a ceremony at the Capt. Salvo Pier, Naval Base Heracleo Alano, Sangley Point, Cavite City on Wednesday (Jan. 29, 2020). The Philippine Navy targets to decommission all its old ships by 2021 and acquire new ships as part of its modernization efforts. (Screengrab from Philippine Navy Facebook live video)

As new ships are now in the pipeline, a Philippine Navy (PN) official said the service targets to decommission all old ships by 2021.

"These are our legacy ships, little by little, (we are) removing them from our inventory so that by the first semester of 2021, all (of) our ships are already modern,"
Philippine Fleet commander, Rear Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo told reporters Tuesday.

Legacy ships refer to World War II-era vessels acquired by the PN during its earlier years.

On Wednesday, the Navy decommissioned patrol corvette BRP Rizal (PS-74) and patrol killer medium gunboat BRP Nicolas Mahusay (PC-119) at the Capt. Salvo Pier, Naval Base Heracleo Alano, Sangley Point, Cavite City.
Bacordo added that decommissioning old assets is necessary to change the mindset of PN personnel.

"We are already modernizing so if you modernize you have to remove from inventory all legacy Navy (ships). How can you change the systems, how can you change the (training) mindset of our personnel if they see new ships and old vessels (still operating)," he said.

BRP Rizal was acquired by the Philippines from the US on June 12, 1965 and it served 54 years while BRP Nicolas Mahusay was acquired from South Korea in 1998 and it served the PN for 22 years.

Bacordo added that these vessels have also outlived their usefulness meaning that they can no longer their designated missions as their speeds and other equipment have deteriorated through their long service.

Also, the PN official said that personnel of these decommissioned vessels will be trained to handle new ships that are up in the pipeline.

Navy flag-officer-in-command, Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad earlier said the Navy is scheduled to receive two new missile-armed frigates, the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) and the BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151), by May and September this year.

These ships are capable of anti-air, anti-surface, anti-submarine warfare.

Aside from these, he said the Navy looks to acquire a Pohang-class corvette from the South Korean Navy.

VFA review 'may lead to amendments' in treaty: Pimentel

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): VFA review 'may lead to amendments' in treaty: Pimentel (By Jose Cielito Reganit)

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III on Wednesday said the Senate review of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States is not meant to interfere with the actions of President Rodrigo Duterte but could lead to improvements in the treaty in case the Executive branch decides to continue the military accord.

“Hindi naman namin pinapakialaman (We are not interfering), we are just reviewing it. Wala itong relation sa visa ni Bato (This has nothing to do with the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa),” he said in an interview.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said the review, which is set for next week, would tackle the VFA’s implementation, the protocols, the benefits it gave to the country, as well as the problems encountered and any ambiguities in the treaty, among others.

After the review is completed by his panel, Pimentel said a committee report will be submitted to the plenary for debates and discussion, after which a copy of would be furnished to Malacañang.

“It will be presented as the Senate’s sentiment,” he said.

Pimentel admitted however that the review could also lead to the introduction of amendments to the VFA, with the end view of improving the military accord in case Malacañang decides not to terminate the treaty.

“Kung kailangan mang i-improve yun, kung may ambiguities at gusto nating ipagpatuloy ang VFA (If ever we need to improve it if there are ambiguities and we want to continue the VFA) so that means it’s an amendment,” he said.

He said the Senate report would then take the form of an “advise.”

“Advise yan, so bibigyan natin ng advice ang Executive branch (It’s an advice, so we will be giving advice to the Executive branch),” Pimentel said.

"So we should start the process of initiating the amendment... with the consent of the other party," he added.

Meanwhile, Pimentel said the VFA review would also touch on the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, as well as the country’s VFA with Australia.

He said this due to a theory by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian that the VFA is closely intertwined with the MDT.

“So if we review the VFA, necessarily mare-review mo rin (we will also review the) MDT and EDCA, which is also an adjunct of the MDT,” he said

“Open-ended ito, hindi namin alam kung kailan kami hihinto basta (we do not know when we will stop, but) it’s a review of the VFA,” Pimentel said.

Duterte last week said he would terminate the VFA after the US canceled the visa of dela Rosa.

The VFA governs the conduct of US soldiers stationed in the Philippines while the MDT ensures that Washington and Manila will come to the aid of the other should one of the parties is under attack.

On the other hand, the EDCA allows the greater rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines.

Duterte serious about VFA termination

From the Philippine  News Agency (Jan 29, 2020): Duterte serious about VFA termination (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

President Rodrigo R. Duterte (File photo)

The Philippines’ termination of the 22-year-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US) will push through, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday.

The President said he was serious when he announced that he would revoke the VFA between Manila and Washington.

“I am terminating (the VFA). I am also not joking. The day I said it was the day I decided it should be terminated,” Duterte said in a chance interview on the sidelines of the celebration of the 69th founding anniversary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Quezon City.

“When you say that I want this terminated, in that agreement or whatever, there are rules to follow, (like) the winding up, the return (of) the properties used during the life of the contract until it was revoked. Ganoon lang yun (That’s how it goes),” he added.

On Jan. 23, Duterte first announced his plan to scrap the VFA between the Philippines and the US within one month, unless Washington fails to “correct” the cancellation of Senator Ronal dela Rosa’s US visa.

The VFA, signed by the two countries on Feb. 10, 1998, allows US forces to enter the Philippines without passport and visa restrictions.

American troops, according to the agreement, can also use their permits and licenses in the Philippines.

Under the VFA, the US also has the jurisdiction over its military personnel who commit crimes in the Philippines, unless their unlawful acts are punishable in Manila.

The Philippines can revoke the VFA by sending a formal notification to the US, signifying its intent to cancel the deal.

The President’s latest decision came following an amendment to the US 2020 budget, which authorizes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bar Philippine government officials involved in Senator Leila de Lima’s “wrongful detention” from entering the US.

De Lima, who has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017, supposedly had a key role in the drug proliferation inside the national penitentiary during her stint as Justice secretary.

Apart from the amendment to the US budget, the American senators have also passed Senate Resolution 142, asking US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Philippine government officials allegedly behind de Lima’s detention.

Duterte admitted that he was prompted to terminate the VFA due to the travel ban order issued against Filipino officials linked to de Lima’s arrest.

“It started when they mentioned about the US resolution in the US Senate. They were trying to figure out who would be the persons who will be barred from entering. Noon pa lang, ‘yung utak ko gumagalaw na. Ganoon ako (I have been thinking about it for some time already. That’s how I think),” Duterte said.

“Hindi naman ako naghihintay (I am not waiting for anything). I just announced it late. Pinapauna ko pero (I have already thought about it and) at that time, I have decided they do this. I will do it not only for dela Rosa but for every Filipino, lalo na yung mga taga-gobyerno na pupunta doon (especially the government workers who will go there) supposedly to attend a business concern officially,” he added.

‘Boycott’ US

In response to the travel ban order imposed by the US, the President also ordered his Cabinet men to “boycott” Washington.

He said he will direct Cabinet officials to avoid traveling to the US “indefinitely.”

“I will not allow any Cabinet member to go there at this time. No Cabinet member should be allowed to go to the United States,” Duterte said. “(It will be) indefinitely. So that we limit our contact in whatever aspect of international relations would be discussed or subject to laws.”

Duterte’s announcement came nearly a week after Malacañang announced that he rejected Trump’s invitation to attend the Southeast Asian leaders’ summit in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 4.

The President, who repeatedly branded Trump as his friend, said he had to skip the summit due to “strategic geopolitical considerations.”

He, however, did not elaborate on his reason.

Duterte said he has no plan of sending a representative for the upcoming summit between the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“I do not want proxies there. That’s what I’ve noticed. When a head of state is absent, his chair remains empty. Nobody sits there. So wala siguro. Wala akong maituturo na proxy ko or who will act as proxy (So perhaps, I will have no representative. I will not name any proxy or anyone who will act as proxy),” he said.