Wednesday, March 25, 2020

AFP backs UN call for global ceasefire

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 25, 2020): AFP backs UN call for global ceasefire (By Priam Nepomuceno)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expressed support for the United Nations' (UN) appeal for a global ceasefire so that countries can focus on efforts to contain the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

"We could not agree more with the UN (Secretary General Antonio Guterres') call for a global ceasefire. The Philippine government has already declared a unilateral ceasefire with the NPA (New People's Army) midnight of March 19, 2020. And the AFP, from its leadership down to the last element on the ground, adheres to it religiously," AFP chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. said in a statement Tuesday.

As Covid-19 cases in the country exceeded the 500-mark and so far claimed 33 lives, Santos said this development has prompted them further to focus on this "virulent but unseen enemy".

"We will press on and assist the government’s campaign to save our people from this deadly disease. We will not be deterred by the threat of attacks on our troops by this Communist Terrorist Group," he added.

Santos said Filipinos during this critical period can depend upon the AFP to close ranks to man the barricades against Covid-19.

"We appeal to our fellow Filipinos to be heroes in saving lives by staying home," he added.

AFP hopes for Reds' sincerity in declaring Covid-19 truce

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 25, 2020): AFP hopes for Reds' sincerity in declaring Covid-19 truce (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Soldiers at a quarantine checkpoint. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Army)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) welcomed on Wednesday the unilateral ceasefire from March 26 to April 15 declared by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA).

"Sana lang talagang maging sincere na sila (we hope that they will be sincere) not only for the period of Covid-19 but forever," AFP acting spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Ernesto Torres told a media interview.

The CPP-NPA on Tuesday declared the truce as a direct response to calls of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire between warring parties for the common purpose of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

The truce is to allow the unhampered and immediate medical, health, economic assistance to the people affected by the disease.

"Let this be a time for them to really reflect, to truly establish lasting peace and eventually sustainable development," Torres said.

He, however, said the AFP has reservations that the ceasefire will lessen fears of attacks while government troops are helping in containing the effects of Covid-19.

This is because the CPP-NPA has a known history of attacking civilian and military targets even if they had declared a truce, Torres 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.

Army repulses NPA attack

From Tempo (Mar 23, 2020): Army repulses NPA attack

The Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion disrupted the New People’s Army (NPA) attack in Barangay Penaranda, Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay, Saturday afternoon.

“The troops were tasked to conduct community visitation and information dissemination to the local populace on the current COVID-19 crisis when armed CNTs fired towards them,” said Lt. Col. Don Templonuevo, commanding officer of the 44th Infantry Battalion.

The12-minute firefight incurred no casualties on the government side.

The soldiers recovered an improvised explosive device, subversive documents; and backpacks with personal belongings, assorted food, and medical supplies.

Just recently, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte appealed to the communists group for a ceasefire as the government focuses its efforts in containing the spread of COVID-19 across the country in one of his televised address.

The military’s 102nd Infantry Brigade commander Colonel Leonel Nicolas said the brigade has complied with the president’s order to suspend all military operations on the ground. (Bonita L. Ermac)

Will the Philippine-US military alliance survive Duterte and Trump?

From the Nikkei Asian Review (Mar 24, 2020): Will the Philippine-US military alliance survive Duterte and Trump? (By CLIFF VENZON)

The Visiting Forces Agreement will officially end on Aug. 9. © Illustration by Takahiro Suganum

South China Sea security at center of efforts to salvage Visiting Forces Agreement

In mid-March, Philippine and American military officials met at Camp Aguinaldo in Manila to confront the biggest question currently facing their alliance: What to do after Aug. 9?

The date marks the official termination of their Visiting Forces Agreement, 180 days after Manila served the notice of repeal to its lone mutual-defense treaty ally.

"The unilateral abrogation of the VFA has triggered a major crisis in the alliance," said Renato De Castro, a regional security expert and professor at De La Salle University in Manila, during a recent forum on the agreement.

Diplomats and military officials from both countries are finding ways to salvage the vital troop deal, a senior Philippine military official told the Nikkei Asian Review, wary that a security vacuum could create an opening for Beijing's further military buildup and expansion in the South China Sea.

But the latest test in the 70-year-old alliance comes as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is increasingly aligning himself with China, while U.S. President Donald Trump is growing reluctant to spend more for Asian allies' security umbrella.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at an ASEAN summit dinner in Manila in November 2017. © AP

Duterte, enraged by U.S. criticism over his violent anti-narcotics campaign that has killed thousands of suspects, has previously threatened to scrap the VFA. But the cancellation of the U.S. visa of Philippine Senator Rolando dela Rosa, a close friend and political ally of Duterte who led the drug war as police chief in 2016 and 2017, "was the last straw that broke the camel's back," according to Duterte's spokesperson, Salvador Panelo. (Duterte has said that the U.S. once denied him a visa when he planned to visit his college girlfriend.)

Reacting to Duterte's move, Trump last month said: "I don't really mind if they would like to do that. It will save a lot of money. My views are different from others."

Ministers from both countries would prefer to keep the troop agreement. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said Manila's abrogation was "unfortunate" and called it "a move in the wrong direction," while Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. favors a "vigorous review" rather than a termination.

The 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement eases the entry of U.S. troops and their equipment into the Philippines for roughly 300 military drills annually, covering disaster response, counterterrorism and maritime security, among other operations.

"Without a VFA, it puts at risk things like these engagements, like these exercises," U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper said during a teleconference in February.

The agreement is a vital aspect of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obliges Washington to defend Manila in the event of an external attack.

"The VFA enhances our interoperability with the U.S. military," the senior Philippine military official said. "It's like preparation for the time when the Mutual Defense Treaty needs to be invoked."

For the investment-starved Philippine military, it also means additional equipment.

From 2016 to 2019, which covers the first half of Duterte's six-year term, Washington's military funding for Manila amounted to $554 million, including $267 million in foreign military financing for the procurement of defense articles, Locsin said during a Senate hearing in February, when he spoke about the wide-ranging benefits to keeping the security alliance with the U.S.

Washington plans to spend more than $200 million in 2020 to 2021 for aircraft, training and equipment for the Philippines, and over $45 million in financing, according to Duterte's foreign minister.

But Duterte, who has doubled soldiers' salaries and approved purchases of fighter jets and frigates, says the time has come to cut reliance on the U.S. "My question to the armed forces: Can we survive without the Americans?" Duterte said in a televised speaking engagement in February. "Do we need America to survive as a nation? Do we need their arms?"

If not, the president said: "You might as well choose: We can be a territory of the Americans or we can be a province of China."

It was obviously a rhetorical question, but Duterte's critics believe the president has chosen the latter.

Since becoming president, Duterte has pivoted toward China and played down Beijing's expansion in the South China Sea in exchange for billions of dollars in investments. He has made multiple visits to Beijing and declared, "I just love President Xi Jinping." Meanwhile, he has called Americans "rude" and vowed not to visit the U.S.

His military, however, has not always been on board with the shift to Beijing. The defense establishment has subtly moved to scuttle Chinese investments they suspect as security risks, such as Chinese companies' bid to take over the bankrupt Hanjin shipyard in Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base that opens to the South China Sea. When news emerged that Duterte had authorized the VFA termination, Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana called it "fake news."

For many, Manila's abrogation of the VFA is reminiscent of American troops' eviction from the Philippines in 1991.

That year, the Philippine Senate, by a one-vote margin, rejected to renew the Military Bases Agreement -- a remnant of the Cold War -- kicking out U.S. forces the following year until they completed their exit in 1995, Jose Antonio Custodio, a military historian and defense analyst, told Nikkei.

"Then in that very same year [1995], the Chinese entered into Mischief Reef," Custodio said, referring to one of several reclaimed islands in the South China Sea. "They decided to take advantage of the vacuum that the Americans have left."

Stung by China's takeover of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, the Philippines decided to modernize its military, which at that time was focused on fighting communist rebels and Islamic separatists in the southern part of the country. But alleged corruption and the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s hampered the costly modernization.

"The modernization actually died," Custodio said.

"If not for China's takeover of the Mischief Reef, I doubt there would be a VFA," he said.

The security environment has since changed. China -- with a mightier economy and military -- has taken de facto control of the South China Sea by reclaiming seven artificial islands equipped with military outposts. In 2012, Beijing took over Scarborough Shoal after a monthslong standoff with Manila.

Duterte, who once broached the idea of forming an alliance with China and Russia, has echoed Beijing's position that non-regional countries like the U.S. are risking conflict in the South China Sea. Last year, one of the military drills near disputed waters involved retaking an airfield.

"The scale and nature of the military exercise probably alarmed President Duterte," according to De Castro, the security analyst.

Albert del Rosario, foreign minister under President Benigno Aquino, has raised alarm over the possibility that ending the VFA could be a prelude to the termination of the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows U.S. military troop rotation and facilities construction in the Philippines, and ultimately the Mutual Defense Treaty.

"This will effectively upend the Philippine-U.S. alliance as we know it," del Rosario said in a forum last month, calling the move a "national tragedy."

But analysts say terminating the Mutual Defense Treaty will complicate the Philippines' other security partnerships, such as those with Japan and Australia, which are major allies of the U.S.

Some military officials admit that the VFA is lopsided. The U.S. military enters the Philippines visa-free and its officers keep custody over soldiers who commit criminal acts, such as when a U.S. soldier was convicted of homicide by a Philippine court for killing a transgender Filipina in 2014. That incident sparked calls to scrap the VFA, similar to when a U.S. soldier was arrested in a rape case in 2005.

Yet, the U.S. and Philippine militaries have a robust relationship beyond the VFA, including intelligence sharing. In 2017, U.S. forces helped to kill the leader of the Maute group, Islamic State-aligned militants who for months laid siege in the southern city of Marawi.

Filipinos also see their former colonizers as the country's most trustworthy foreign partner. China, in contrast, is among the least trusted.

The Philippine Senate, anti-U.S. in 1991, has challenged Duterte's abrogation of the VFA by asking the Supreme Court to rule that the Senate should have a say in the troop agreement's fate.

Walter Lohman, director at the Asian Studies Center of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, believes Philippine-U.S. relations are strong enough to weather the storm.

"I think post-Duterte -- maybe even before he leaves, or before the notification period is up -- we'll find a way to continue," Lohman told Nikkei. "We've made it through tough times before."

The Philippine-U.S. meeting in mid-March in Manila, which was intended to plan for next year's activities, also highlighted the militaries' desire to continue drills. "We are trying to isolate the military from politics," the senior military officer told Nikkei.

Troops from the Philippines and the U.S. take part in the annual Balikatan war-games exercise at a military camp in the northern Philippines in April 2015. © Reuters

Despite the notice of abrogation, Philippine and U.S. forces are going ahead with a major military exercise in May called Balikatan, which means "shoulder-to-shoulder."

"It's pushing through unless the coronavirus disrupts it," the senior military official said.

At least before Duterte deployed soldiers to enforce a monthlong virus lockdown on Luzon Island, home to 57 million people, this year's Balikatan was expected to involve more troops than last year's.

The U.S. military is clearly reluctant to let go. "It's a little disappointing that -- at this point we value our alliance with the Philippines, we continue to operate together with the Philippine Navy, and we'll see where this current narrative goes," U.S. Navy Admiral and Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet John Aquilino said in a recent teleconference.

Diplomats are also trying to save the VFA. Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Romualdez on Feb. 28 said he and his American counterpart in Manila, Sung Kim, were "trying to find ways and means" to "come up with something similar."

But on March 1, Duterte's spokesperson, Panelo, said the president's position "remains unchanged."

When asked if the alliance could survive this time, the senior military officer said: "Historically, it has survived."

Additional reporting by Ella Hermonio

With world busy fighting coronavirus, China quietly builds installations on Philippine-claimed reefs

From the Philippine Star (Mar 24, 2020): With world busy fighting coronavirus, China quietly builds installations on Philippine-claimed reefs (Patricia Lourdes Viray)

This Jan. 1, 2018 satellite image shows China's installations on Fiery Cross or Kagitingan Reef in the West Philippine Sea.  CSIS/AMTI via DigitalGlobe

While the rest of the world is busy battling the coronavirus pandemic, China, where the virus originated, has taken advantage of the countries’ preoccupation by building new facilities on Philippine-claimed territories in West Philippine Sea.

On Friday, government-funded Chinese Academy of Sciences launched two research stations on Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) and Subi Reefs in Spratly Islands to “help scientists expand their research into deep sea ecology, geology, environment, material sciences and marine energy,” state-run Xinhua reported.

“They also play a part in monitoring ecological and seismic changes in key regions of the South China Sea,” it added.

As it is, the state-sponsored think tank running the new installments has a research center based on Mischief Reef, which the July 2016 international arbitral award ruled to be part of the Philippines.

While Subi Reef and Fiery Cross are different territories not subject of the ruling, Manila is also laying claim on the islands located closer to the country, sitting around 100 km and 24 km off Palawan, respectively.

According to the news report, the new stations would serve as research units meant to support Beijing’s all-encompassing development programs in South China Sea, an area where freedom of navigation has been under attack due to China’s militarization.

Specifically, new Chinese facilities in Fiery Cross are envisioned to monitor coral reef biomes or the island’s flora and fresh water conservation, while those in Subi Reef will house seismic stability and fresh water monitoring systems.

Fiery Cross and Subi Reefs are two of Beijing's “big three” militarized islands in the Spratlys, particularly transforming the former into a fortified airbase in 2017.

In July 2016, a United Nations-backed tribunal characterized Fiery Cross Reef as a rock that can't sustain habitation or economic life. It is allowed a 12-nautical mile territorial sea.

As to Subi Reef, the arbitral tribunal also concluded that the island is a low-tide elevation, which means that it disappears during high tide and has no maritime entitlement.

Army ops vs insurgency continues in Northern Samar

From the Sun Star-Tacloban (Mar 24, 2020): Army ops vs insurgency continues in Northern Samar

THE Philippine Army in Northern Samar has vowed to sustain its anti-insurgency operations in the province following the death of a high-ranking leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Catarman.

“Your Army here in Northern Samar will not rest until this terrorist realized the futility of their false revolution that has been dragging the economic progress of the province. It is a reminder also that the hands of the law will reach them, no matter where they are hiding,” said Colonel Zosimo Oliveros, commander of 803rd Infantry Brigade.

Oliveros statement came after Salvador “Badok” Nordan, the alleged deputy of Sub-Regional Operation Command (SROC) of SRC Emporium, was killed by government forces in Catarman on March 6.

The army official also thanked the trust and confidence of the communities for the information to locate the safe houses of Nordan.

“This only shows that they were already tired of the terroristic activities these NPAs have caused not only to the military but also to the helpless civilians,” said Oliveros in a statement.

According to him, the village residents in Guba, Salvacion, Malvar, and San Julian of Catarman “explicitly expressed their frustration against the CPP-NPA-NDF as they issued the Barangay Resolutions denouncing the said terrorist group as persona-non-grata in the area.”

Meanwhile, Oliveros said that Nordan’s death “could have been avoided if only these communist-NPA terrorist members heed to the call of the government to peacefully return to the folds of the law and avail the Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-Clip).”

Joint operatives from Philippine National Police (PNP) and Philippine Army in the province shot dead Nordan after allegedly he drew his short firearm and attempted to shoot the troops who were about to serve him the warrant of arrest at his safe house in Barangay Guba on March 6.

He was accused for attempted homicide, illegal possession of explosive, murder, and homicide.

Recovered from the suspect was one caliber .45 pistol without serial number.

CPP announces ceasefire from March 26 to April 15 due to COVID-19 pandemic

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 25, 2020): CPP announces ceasefire from March 26 to April 15 due to COVID-19 pandemic (By: Gabriel Pabico Lalu)

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has announced a ceasefire from March 26 to April 15 to allow the government to focus on its fight against the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

According to CPP’s statement on Tuesday found in the website of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), they are heeding the latter’s recommendation of a ceasefire, in accordance with the United Nations (UN) request for warring parties all over the world to stop fighting temporarily.

CPP’s armed force New People’s Army (NPA) was ordered to stand down and refrain from making offensives against the government forces.

“Upon the recommendation of the Negotiating Panel of the (NDFP), by way of direct response to the call of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire between warring parties for the common purpose of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) hereby orders all commands and units of the New People’s Army (NPA) and the people’s militias to observe a nationwide ceasefire that will take effect from 00:00H of 26 March 2020 to 23:59H of 15 April 2020,” CPP said.

“During the ceasefire period, all NPA units and people’s militias shall cease and desist from carrying out offensive military operations against the armed units and personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other paramilitary and armed groups attached to the GRP,” it added.

Previously, communist leader Jose Maria Sison said that both the CPP and the NDFP are seriously looking into President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer of a ceasefire, as the Philippines grapples with the latest coronavirus strain.

As of Tuesday, Luzon is still under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to the rising COVID-19 cases. The Department of Health said that there are already 552 confirmed cases in the Philippines, 35 of which have already died while at least 20 have recovered.

Worldwide, over 370,000 COVID-19 cases have been recorded, while 16,228 patients have died, and another 97,677 patients have recovered.

Despite the ceasefire, CPP advised NPA units to remain vigilant for possible offensives from government forces despite the ECQ, forcing military and police personnel to man checkpoints and patrol streets.

However, the communist group also noted that the ceasefire may be seen as a confidence-building measure as the peace negotiations move forward.

“All units of the NPA must be vigilant and be ready to act in self-defense against any tactical offensives or any hostile actions or movements contrary to the ceasefire order launched by an enemy force against the people and revolutionary forces in the guerrilla fronts of the people’s democratic government,” CPP said.

“The ceasefire may potentially contribute as well towards a positive atmosphere conducive to the eventual holding of informal talks preparatory to the formal meeting to resume the peace negotiations,” it added.

The COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus that first emerged in China’s city of Wuhan in Hubei province in late 2019.

The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses named the novel coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2.

Coronavirus is a family of viruses, whose surfaces have a crown-like appearance. The viruses are named for the spikes on their surfaces.

PH military vows to adhere to UN’s call for ‘immediate global ceasefire’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 25, 2020): PH military vows to adhere to UN’s call for ‘immediate global ceasefire’ (By: Frances Mangosing)

MANILA, Philippines — Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. said Tuesday that the military will heed to the appeal of the United Nations for an “immediate global ceasefire” to protect the most vulnerable in conflict amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We could not agree more with the UN SecGen’s call for a global ceasefire,” he said in a statement.

The Philippine government last week declared a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels, which will last until April 15.

“And the AFP, from its leadership down to the last element on the ground, adheres to it religiously,” Santos said.

While its law enforcement operations against communist rebels continue, the military has shifted its focus on assisting the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have trailed our focus on this virulent but unseen enemy that has claimed the lives of 33 of our countrymen and thus far infected 501. And this development pushes us harder,” Santos said.

Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison, meanwhile, said he is recommending a unilateral ceasefire as a response the UN call.

AFP opens facilities as quarantine sites in PH

From PTV News (Mar 24, 2020): AFP opens facilities as quarantine sites in PH

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is open for the use of its facilities as quarantine sites for Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients in the Philippines.

Part of the Philippine Army’s contingency plan is the use of their camps as quarantine sites in the event that the number of COVID-19 cases increases in the country.

Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija is one of the largest facilities of the PA that can be used as a quarantine site.

The Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) has made the Sibakel Island in Basilan as the quarantine site for Filipinos deported from Sabah, Malaysia who were not allowed entry in the Philippines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2 private vessels with more than 200 residents aboard have arrived in the country last week but they were not allowed to get off the ship.

The WESMINCOM has decided to help the residents and placed them under a 14-day quarantine.

According to WESMINCOM Chief Lieutenant Cirilito Sobejana, they are regularly given food, hygiene kits, and other necessities.

The military will guard the island to ensure the safety of the deportees. – Report from Bea Bernardo

Declare ceasefire, Joma urges NDF

From the Manila Times (Mar 25, 2020): Declare ceasefire, Joma urges NDF (By Dempsey Reyes)

Exiled communist leader Jose Maria “Joma” Sison has called on the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ (NDFP) to declare a truce amid the coronavirus pandemic and in answer to the appeal for ceasefire by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

Chairman Jose Maria “Joma” Sison

Sison on Tuesday said he would advise the NDFP negotiating panel to recommend to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) to declare a ceasefire.

Another Rally

Sison, founding chairman of the CPP, is the NDFP’s chief political consultant.

“The NDFP and the broad masses of the people themselves need to refrain from launching tactical offensives to gain more time and opportunity to fight the Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic and to look after the health and overall welfare of the people in both urban and rural areas,” Sison said in a statement.

“While the New People’s Army can cease and desist from launching tactical offensives against the military, police and paramilitary forces of the [Philippine government], it must be vigilant and be ready to act in self-defense against any tactical offensive launched by any enemy force against the people and revolutionary forces in the guerilla fronts of the people’s democratic government,” he added.

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire as the government tightened the community quarantine imposed on Luzon.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. also supported the call of Guterres for a global ceasefire while countries battle the pandemic.

“We could not agree more with the UN SecGen’s call for a global ceasefire,” Santos said in a separate statement. “The Philippine government has already declared a unilateral ceasefire with the NPA midnight of March 19, 2020. And the AFP, from its leadership down to the last element on the ground, adheres to it religiously.”

“In this time of great need, our people can depend upon the AFP to close ranks to man the barricades against Covid-19,” he added.

Guterres urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons and help fight the virus.

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” the UN chief said. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

The ceasefire would allow humanitarians to reach populations that are most vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December and has now been reported in more than 180 countries.

The UN chief called on warring parties to pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity, and “silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes.”

This is crucial, he said, “to help create corridors for life-saving aid. To open precious windows for diplomacy. To bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to Covid-19.”

AFP: Senior military official, wife test positive for COVID-19

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 24, 2020): AFP: Senior military official, wife test positive for COVID-19 (By Martin Sadongdong)

A senior military official and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19 in what could be considered the first confirmed cases of the disease in the military, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) confirmed on Tuesday.

No less than AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Felimon Santos confirmed that the official and his wife were being treated at the military’s premier hospital at V. Luna Medical Center in Quezon City.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) (MANILA BULLETIN)

“Said military officer has a history of foreign travel and was admitted to the medical facility and his spouse as persons under investigation (PUIs) last March 15,” Santos said.

A military source privy to the identity and condition of the official confirmed that the disease-stricken soldier is a one-star general assigned at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

The source said the official and his wife have already “survived the crucial part” and both are now recovering.

“Ang peak nalampasan na nila (They have survived the peak). They are already in the recovery phase,” the source said.

Meanwhile, Santos said the military official is asymptomatic although he and his wife were still being observed at the hospital.

“They will continue medical treatment until fully recovered and strictly following DOH [Department of Health]-imposed protocol for COVID-19 patients,” Santos said.

The source said the military official made contact with Sen. Miguel Zubiri last March 11 at the confirmation of some military officials and reservists by the Commission on Appointments.

Zubiri earlier announced that he tested positive for COVID-19.

The source said the results of the COVID-19 tests of the military official and his wife were released on Monday (March 23).

Camp measures

Meanwhile, Santos said the AFP has put up measures and specific guidelines to protect all of its personnel, particularly those stationed in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

“Since the community quarantine of Metro Manila started on March 15, only two gates were opened for ingress and egress to better monitor the movement of people in the camp,” Santos said.

Thermal scanners and qualified personnel were made available to hasten the process of getting the temperatures of those entering the main military camp.

The operations of the Commissioned Officers’ Club (COC), Camp Aguinaldo Golf Course, AFP Finance Center, and other financial institutions located inside the camp have been temporarily stopped although food stalls at the Soldier’s Mall remained operational.

Religious services were also closed to attendees but were broadcast live through the Civil Relations Service (CRSAFP).

Santos said the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, J1, also issued guidelines to maximize work-from-home measures for civilian human resources, while military personnel must remain inside the camp to ensure that other security operations are unaffected.

Likewise, the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, J4 ensured the availability of important equipment and supplies throughout AFP units, especially to those manning the different quarantine assistance stations.

“We have also directed the availability of a military treatment facility within the camp to cater specifically to AFP personnel manifesting symptoms of COVID-19,” Santos said.

“House-to-house reminders from GHQ-HSC (General Headquarters and Headquarters Service Command) and the station hospital are also being conducted for residents within the camp, encouraging them to practice personal hygiene and other related actions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19.”

“Protocol from the DOH in preventing and combating the spread of COVID-19 is being strictly implemented, including intensified contact tracing to ensure the safety of military and civilian personnel in the General Headquarters,” the AFP Chief also said.

Philippine Ambassador to Japan Administers Oath of Office of Two Filipino Graduates of the Prestigious National Defense Academy of Japan

From the Philippine Embassy Japan (Mar 24, 2020): Philippine Ambassador to Japan Administers Oath of Office of Two Filipino Graduates of the Prestigious National Defense Academy of Japan

Oath of Office. Ambassador Jose C. Laurel V (left) administers the oath of office of Charmaine Arcillas Lim (middle) and Aljan Osorio Esmeria as Second Lieutenants of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Both are graduates of the prestigious National Defense Academy of Japan.

Tokyo, 23 March 2020 – H.E. Jose C. Laurel V, Philippine Ambassador to Japan, administered the oath taking ceremony and donning of ranks of second lieutenants held at the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo to Aljan Osorio Esmeria and Charmaine Arcillas Lim, newly graduates of the prestigious National Defense Academy (NDA) of Japan.

The two were among the 20 foreign cadets of the 437 graduates of NDA in ceremonies held on 22 March 2020 and attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. The graduation ceremony at the NDA was scaled down in consideration of the CoVid-19 pandemic. Families of the graduates and other guests were not invited and only 18 graduates were handed diplomas during the ceremony which was broadcast live online for the first time.

The ceremony at the Embassy was witnessed by Col. Gleen Albert C. Laguardia, Defense and Armed Forces Attaché (DAFA), MSg Alejandro T. Santos II, Administrative Assistant to DAFA, and eight other Filipino undergraduate cadet scholars of NDA. Also in attendance were Mr. Yukio and Ms. Yukari Natou, Japanese foster parents of 2Lt. Esmeria.

2nd Lt. Lim received the Outstanding International Cadet Award on her graduation. Prior to her admission into the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), she finished a computer course at TESDA and was an undergraduate engineering student (4th year) at Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City. She is the eldest among the three children of a retiree and a housewife. 2nd Lt. Esmeria was also an undergraduate engineering student (2nd year) at the Technological University of the Philippines in Taguig City before his admission into the PMA. He is the 5th child among the eight children of a retired enlisted military officer and a housewife. Both 2nd Lt. Lim and Esmeria will join the Philippine Air Force upon their return to the Philippines. The two were admitted into the PMA in 2014 and were sent to NDA as cadet scholars the following year.

Since 1996, the Japanese Government has offered full scholarship to PMA cadets to study at NDA under its international exchange program. The scholarship covers a 5-year program that includes a one-year Nihonggo language course and the four-year undergraduate courses in science and engineering. The NDA is the premier military academy of Japan established in 1952.

In his speech, Ambassador Laurel noted that his father, who also served as the Philippine Ambassador to Japan from 1966 to 1971, is a graduate of the same Japanese military academy in 1937. He was known as the first Filipino samurai until his death. “You had the great opportunity of learning Japanese culture over the years. Upon your return to the Philippines, bring with you the Japanese culture of discipline in your career and private life”, Ambassador Laurel told the graduates and the cadets. END.

Photo Opportunity. Ambassador Jose C. Laurel V (middle is suit) and Defense and Armed Forces Attaché Col. Gleen Albert C. Laguardia (in service blouse), together with the two newly graduates (in white duck) and eight Filipino cadet scholars (in dress blue) of the National Defense Academy of the Philippines.