Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Army helps transport food packs to beneficiaries

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31, 2020): Army helps transport food packs to beneficiaries (By Lorenzo O. Lambatin, Jr.)

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CAMP GERONA, MURCIA, Negros Occidental (March 31) – The 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army headed by Colonel Inocencio Pasaport recently provided manpower and transportation support to the distribution of food packs to families affected by the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Negros Occidental, a press release from the brigade said.

A total of 2,400 food packs were hauled and will be distributed to the different Local Government Units in Negros Occidental.

The activity was initiated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development Regional Office 6 (DSWD VI) to provide relief augmentation to the affected families due to COVID-19 in line with Presidential Proclamation No. 0929, series of 2020 on the Declaration of State of Calamity throughout the Philippines issued last March 17, 2020.

A week ago, Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, Vice Gov. Jeffrey Ferrer, city and municipal mayors of Negros Occidental and Chiefs of Hospitals, together with AFP and PNP top officials here, met at the COVID-19 Provincial Incident Command Center in Bacolod City and agreed on the implementation of ECQ for the entire province Monday, March 30.

Discussed during the meeting were protocols and referral system in handling COVID-19 patients. Updates on the worldwide pandemic were also presented.

Pasaporte noted the support of the Philippine Army in Negros in the effort of the local government unit in preventing and containing the spread of COVID-19 in the province by providing security and manpower as well as mobility assets.

"To our fellow Negrenses, we must do our part to help our government fight against COVID-19. Let’s obey and follow all the guidelines and safety tips set forth by our government to help contain COVID-19,” Pasaporte said. (303IB-PA/JSC/LLJR-PIA6)


Caraga Army unit lists PUI, 8 PUMs for Covid-19

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31, 2020): Caraga Army unit lists PUI, 8 PUMs for Covid-19 (By Alexander Lopez)

SECURING THE BORDER. Personnel from the Army's 23rd Infantry Battalion provide assistance to members of the Inter-Agency Task Force that man the quarantine checkpoint in Bancasi, Butuan City. The Army unit says it has a patient under investigation with mild symptoms while another eight are considered as persons under monitoring for 2019 coronavirus disease. (PNA photo by Alexander Lopez)

A soldier of the Army's 23rd Infantry Battalion has been listed as a patient under investigation (PUI) with mild symptoms while another eight are considered persons under monitoring (PUMs), a top Army official said Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Francisco L. Molina, Jr., 23IB commander, told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that the eight Army troopers were on vacation and no longer allowed to travel back to their headquarters after confirmation that their respective hometowns have been hit by the 2019 coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

“I ordered them to stay home, do not travel, and have themselves undergo self-quarantine. We listed them as PUMs as they are in an area with positive Covid-19 cases though they did not have any symptoms such as cough, cold or fever,” Molina said.

The Army personnel listed as mild PUI did not have record of travels in areas with positive cases of Covid-19, he added.

“He had a cough and complained of a sore throat so we immediately segregated him in a place outside our camp. He stayed there alone and being monitored by health personnel,” Molina said.

Molina also stressed that as of Monday, (March 30), the PUI was in good condition and already recovered from cough and sore throat.

The self-quarantine of the nine Army personnel will be completed early next week, he added.

“We immediately imposed strict regulations here inside the camp to prevent the spread of the disease. All our soldiers and visitors are now required to step to a footbath placed at our gate. All vehicles are also sprayed with disinfectant before entering our camp,” he said.

Molina also emphasized the importance of providing information to the soldiers on Covid-19 and the measures that will help protect themselves as they render services at the quarantine checkpoints.

Molina said the 23rd IB daily grind now includes the morning physical fitness and conditioning, to include the basic ‘army dozen’ and a good diet of vegetables and fruits.

He said the 23IB is providing security support to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) composed of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Department of Health (DOH), and other line agencies in six major quarantine checkpoints in Agusan del Norte and Butuan City, and in the eastern part of Gingoog City and the town of Magsaysay in Misamis Oriental.

“We are on the supporting role, looking and ensuring the security of the members of the task force that implement measures in quarantine checkpoints to contain the spread of Covid-19,” Molina said.

He added that amidst the Covid-19 threats, the 23IB is not putting its guard down against the communist New People’s Army (NPA).

Molina said despite the declaration of ceasefire, previous incidents tell how the NPA exploited the situation for their gains.

“We are not prevented to conduct security patrols. Our mandate is to protect the communities and the people. We are committed to perform this mandate at all times,” he added.


China to send doctors to PH

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31, 2020): China to send doctors to PH (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian 

China is dispatching a team of medical experts to help the Philippines combat the rapid increase of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases in the country.

"The main task of the medical expert team is to help the Philippines fight against Covid-19 by providing technical advice on epidemic prevention and control as well as sharing medical treatment experience," the Chinese Embassy in Manila said in a statement.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said the move was "upon the request of the Philippine government".

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, for his part, pledged that the Department of Health would coordinate with the Embassy to facilitate and assure the work of the medical expert team goes smoothly.

Huang and Duque discussed the latest cooperation details over the phone on Monday. As of posting, the Embassy has yet to reveal the number of doctors who will arrive and when.

Beijing has earlier donated more than 100,000 test kits for Covid-19 as well as various essential medical supplies to the Philippine government.


Army gets cash for purchase of ventilators

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31, 2020): Army gets cash for purchase of ventilators (By Priam Nepomuceno)

HELPING FIGHT VS. COVID-19. Army assistant chief-of-staff for personnel, Col. Potenciano Camba (2nd from right) receives cash donation worth PHP550,000 from the Philippine Army Finance Center Producers Integrated Cooperative (PAFCPIC) during the signing of a deed of donation at Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City on Monday (March 30, 2020). The amount will be used to buy ventilators as part of the efforts to help contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). (Photo courtesy of Army Chief Public Affairs Office)

The Philippine Army (PA) on Monday has received cash donation worth PHP550,000, which it will use to buy ventilators as part of efforts to help contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

In a statement Tuesday, PA spokesperson Col. Ramon Zagala said the amount was donated by the Philippine Army Finance Center Producers Integrated Cooperative (PAFCPIC).

The amount was officially given to PA assistant chief-of-staff for personnel, Col. Potenciano Camba, during a deed of donation signing event together with PAFCPIC representative, retired Brig. Gen. Fernando S. Zabat.

Zagala said the PA will use the money to purchase a number of the paraPAC plus Model 300 & Model 310 ventilators that will serve as portable devices for the ventilation of adults, children, and infants during transportation and emergencies.

Meanwhile, PA commander Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay thanked PAFCPIC for its donation.

"We are truly grateful for our stakeholders who give their support as we fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. We believe that the purchase of the equipment, made possible by the donation, will serve as a means in the Army’s operations against such a health crisis,” he added.


Threat to Terminate US-Philippine Pact Resonates Around Southeast Asia

Posted to Radio Free Asia (Mar 30, 2020): Threat to Terminate US-Philippine Pact Resonates Around Southeast Asia (By Drake Long)

Soldiers take part in an amphibious assault demonstration during the Cobra Gold multilateral military exercise in Hat Yao Beach, Sattahip District, Chonburi Province, Thailand, Feb. 28, 2020. Reuters

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to terminate a lynchpin military pact with longtime treaty ally the United States -- if implemented -- could not only shake Manila's defense policy but impact the delicate balance in ties between Southeast Asia and U.S. and China, analysts say.

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that Duterte plans to scrap was ratified by the Philippines in 1999. It governs the U.S. military presence in the country, placing U.S. forces there under U.S. jurisdiction. It allows access to Philippine facilities, airspace, and waters and enables U.S.-Philippine military exercises and training. Furthermore, it underpins another 2016 pact that provided for five joint military bases on Philippine soil.

While other nations in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand and Singapore, have close military ties with the United States, neither provides Washington with the kind of strategic foothold in the region offered by the military alliance with Manila.

That’s why Duterte’s threat – issued after Washington cancelled the visa of a high-profile political ally -- is resonating beyond the Philippine archipelago. If he follows though, it would play out amid the upheaval of the coronavirus crisis that could further alter perceptions in the region about the relative strengths of the U.S. and China.

“Southeast Asian states depend on the U.S. security presence as a reliable guarantee that they can counterbalance China,” said Hunter Marston, an analyst on the region pursuing a doctorate at Australian National University. “A less credible U.S. presence in the region could make it difficult for those states trying to be neutral between the United States and China. This is especially true as China continues coercive practices like its pressure campaign against claimants in the South China Sea. “

Radio Free Asia spoke to experts in Washington and across the region to gauge how the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are managing the great power rivalry between Washington and Beijing, and how an end to the VFA could influence policy in those countries.


Although not a formal treaty ally of the United States, the prosperous city state of Singapore has its own defense cooperation agreements with the U.S. The Strategic Framework between the two countries allows for the U.S. to rotate forces through Singapore’s Changi Naval Base, and for Singaporean armed forces train at U.S. facilities.

Since 2013, Singapore has permitted the U.S. to rotate a littoral combat ship at the naval base, and since 2015, to fly P-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft out of Paya Lebar Air Base. It also has a pier able to accommodate an American aircraft carrier.

Such arrangements have complicated Singapore’s traditionally cordial ties with China, but are unlikely to replace what the Philippines offered the U.S. "It's hard to imagine them doing more to step up and shoulder the burden, given their size and capacity,” Marston said.

U.S. and Thai amphibious vehicles land at Had Yao beach in Chanthaburi province as part of a training exercise during the Cobra Gold program, Feb. 28, 2020. Credit: BenarNews  


Thailand is the oldest treaty ally of the United States in Asia, with bilateral ties dating back to 1833. Military-to-military relations reached their high point during the Vietnam War period and remain deep. Thailand hosts the annual Cobra Gold military exercise, one of America’s largest multilateral drills involving the participation of nations across the Asia-Pacific.

But Thailand does not host rotations of U.S. forces in the manner of the Philippines, nor does it have an agreement with Washington that would allow it. Bangkok has always been careful to maintain close ties with China and these ties have deepened in recent years as Beijing economic and military power has rapidly grown.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, says cancellation of the VFA “may lead Thai strategic thinkers to think that they are on the right track by moving closer to China and away from the US.”

It’s been a growing topic of debate within Thailand’s political establishment in recent years.

U.S.-Thai military cooperation was set back in 2014 with the coup that brought current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to power. This subsequently caused the Obama administration to suspend foreign military assistance. But Thitinan said the relationship has improved since then, with military-to-military cooperation “the bedrock of the entire bilateral relationship.” That’s been helped by the Trump administration's “recalibration of interests over values, not prioritizing rights and freedoms.”

China Coast Guard ship is seen from an Indonesian Naval ship during a patrol at Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone sea in the north of Natuna island, Indonesia, Jan. 11, 2020. Credit: Antara via Reuters


Indonesia, the most powerful nation in the region, looks to the United States and U.S. ally Australia to provide training and education for its armed forces. Yet despite periodic tensions with China over intrusions into waters off the Natuna Islands, Indonesia is unlikely to allow U.S. forces to be based on its soil. Jakarta has long held a policy of non-alignment and is careful to avoid over-dependence on any single world power.

“In the eyes of many in Jakarta, the U.S. and China are not good providers of regional security to begin with in recent years,” said Evan Laksmana, a senior researcher at Jakarta’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“If we do make adjustments I doubt it will be because of the Philippines,” Laksmana said, noting that something looms larger on Indonesia list of priorities than concern over a diminished U.S. presence in Southeast Asia. That’s the U.S. legislation adopted in 2017 that threatens sanctions on any country that buys arms from Russia.

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is problematic for nations in the region like Indonesia that want a cheap source of weaponry that Moscow can offer.

Still, Laksmana says Southeast Asia nations would struggle to adapt if the U.S.-Philippine relationship fell apart. It could lead to a “security vacuum” that China may seek to fill. He’s skeptical that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations themselves could fill the breach, for example by stepping up collaboration in military technology.

“The relationships between ASEAN militaries are quite good in terms of informal networks and connections. But to provide a counterbalance to China if China were to fill the security vacuum? I don’t think so,” he said.

USS Theodore Roosevelt in Danang Bay on a port call marking 25 years of relations since diplomatic normalization, March 5, 2020. Credit: Reuters


Vietnam’s relationship with the United States, its former wartime enemy, has warmed tremendously in the past decade, in part because of their mutual interest in countering China. Despite human rights concerns, the U.S. has lifted restrictions on arms sales and there are fledgling military-to-military ties. An example of this was the port call made in March by a U.S. aircraft carrier in Da Nang, only the second since the two countries normalized relations 25 years ago.

But Vietnam will remain leery of getting into too deep with the U.S. Marston notes that Hanoi has a strict policy against military alliances and foreign military forces in its territory, and looks to forge ties with a wide range of defense partners, including Israel, which has sold it drones, and Japan, which has provided naval patrol ships.

“Vietnam also draws in international oil corporations, whose exploration in its exclusive economic zone waters means there’s some sort of ‘skin in the game’ that deters Chinese adventurism and aggression,” Marston said.

He said that partly explains why China last year provoked a stand-off with Vietnam over the Vanguard Bank, a feature within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone – as a way to pressure international oil companies like Exxon Mobil and Spain’s Repsol out of energy exploration and drilling agreements with claimant countries in the South China Sea.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said ASEAN governments now have more options for security ties with powers other than the U.S. “Some of these external powers outside Southeast Asia in fact are keen to step up to the plate to augment and, if necessary, partially offset the reduction of a U.S. military presence,” he said.

To name a few examples, according to Jane’s, Indonesia’s navy partners with a Dutch shipbuilding company for frigate construction and upgrades. On Mar 23, Singapore and Australia signed an agreement expanding training opportunities for the Singapore’s military in Australia. And Yonhap news agency reported last August that South Korean company Hanwha is upgrading the Philippine Navy’s fleet of frigates.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his fourth State of the Nation Address at the Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 22, 2019. Reuters


The Philippines’ military ties with its former colonial master have had their ups and downs for decades. In the early 1990s, Manila forced the U.S. to vacate two of its largest overseas military installations – Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base, both located northwest of Manila.

The relationship has deteriorated under Duterte, who has forged closer ties with China. But the U.S. and the Philippines remain treaty allies. As the Philippines grapples with territorial disputes in the South China Sea and insurgencies, it still leans on U.S. military support. A clear example came in 2017, when U.S. aerial intelligence was key to the Philippines defeating Islamic State militants who had seized the southern city of Marawi.

The Philippine government has portrayed withdrawal from the VFA as a step towards achieving ‘self-reliance’. But Koh says the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has too many complex challenges and too limited capacity for this to be realistic.

“For the foreseeable future, the AFP still needs the U.S. alliance as a backstop, providing it niche capabilities it still can’t afford to acquire as yet,” Koh said.

Duterte has faced political resistance to ending the VFA, with opposition senators and even one within his own political party petitioning the Supreme Court to give legislators’ ultimate approval of the measure.

The withdrawal from the VFA only takes effect 180 days after it was officially submitted on Feb. 11 so there could yet be a reverse in course. But Duterte is showing no sign of relenting. He reiterated on March 10 his intention to terminate the agreement.

Aaron Rabena, a research fellow at the Manila-based Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress, notes that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines remains intact. “This means that if China commits an armed attack on any Philippine armed force, public vessel or aircraft in the South China Sea, the MDT will be activated,” he said.

But experts say that the abrogation of the VFA would complicate any American military response to fulfill its treaty obligations.


AFP gets share in P200-million medical equipment donation

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 31, 2020): AFP gets share in P200-million medical equipment donation (By Martin Sadongdong)

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) disclosed on Tuesday that it has received its share in the P200 million worth of medical equipment and supplies donated for frontliners battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

General Felimon Santos Jr., AFP Chief of Staff, said the donations came from the Filipino-Chinese community, a private company, and an anonymous Chinese national whom he thanked for their generosity.

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

“The AFP, along with other beneficiaries like the Philippine National Police (PNP), Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Bureau of Immigration (BI), public and private hospitals, and local government units expresses its heartfelt gratitude to [the] local private donors and nameless individuals who, out of sincere desire to help the country’s imperiled frontliners, (have) contributed (vital equipment) to the battle against COVID-19,” Santos stated.

“Their example, which is worthy of emulation, would surely inspire our men and women…knowing that as they perform their checkpoint duties, some people like these donors are looking after their welfare,” he added.

The donated equipment and supplies include two units of two-piece Automated Nucleic Acid Extraction System machines; four Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines; 30,000 real time PCR diagnostic kits; 25,010 medical protective suits; 292,300 face masks; 60,000 medical gloves; 5,064 goggles; 5,000 face sheilds; and 1,000 pairs of protective shoe covers.

From the bulk of items received by the military, Santos said that one unit of the two-piece Automated Nucleic Acid Extraction System machine and a PCR machine were delivered at the V. Luna General Hospital in Quezon City for installation after the completion of the structure being built by the AFP Corps of Engineers.

Santos expressed confidence that the medical equipment and supplies will greatly help the military in monitoring its personnel who have tested positive for the COVID-19, and those considered as persons under investigation (PUIs) and monitoring (PUM).

“The donor attests that all four PCR machines and all diagnostic kits have been physically inspected and assessed by th Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and are declared fully compliant with the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO),” he said.

He also noted that the testing kits are “at par with the ones provided by the WHO” as assured by the donor.

The machines and goods arrived in the country on March 21 and March 28 at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City via a Philippine Air Force (PAF) C-130 transport plane.

The donations were received by the government just as healthcare workers, hospitals, soldiers, cops and other frontliners were running out of personal protective equipment (PPEs) amid the fight to contain the COVID-19.

New People’s Army lands heavy blows on Armed Forces of the Philippines

Propaganda article posted to Fight Back! News (News and Views from the People's Struggle) (Mar 31, 2020): New People’s Army lands heavy blows on Armed Forces of the Philippines

Red fighters of New People's Army.

The communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) inflicted more than 1000 casualties of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in 2019.

“The NPA continues to reap victories in the field despite massive and intensified combat operations by the AFP,” CPP Chief Information Officer Marco Valbuena announced today, March 29, on the NPA’s 51st founding anniversary.

Quoting the annual anniversary statement released by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Valbuena said that the NPA carried out 710 military actions of varying scale in 2019, which include harassment, disarming, demolition, sapper and partisan operations, to punitive actions, raids on enemy detachments and ambuscades.

Valbuena pointed out that the AFP and other government forces suffered the equivalent of 30 platoons or two battalions. "At least 651 enemy troops were killed, while more than 465 were wounded in action,” said the Central Committee, citing reports of the NPA's National Operations Command.

The NPA is currently on ceasefire, in response to the call of the UN Secretary General for a global ceasefire. The Central Committee issued a unilateral declaration ordering all NPA units to cease and desist from launching offensives during the period effective March 26 to April 15, while remaining vigilant in the face of AFP offensives and maneuvers.

The Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA are spearheading a massive effort to alleviate the spread and impact of the pandemic.

The NPA, especially its medical units, are working in coordination with revolutionary village health committees to help contain the disease, give special attention to the elderly and pregnant women, help care those who have been infected and promote personal hygiene and community sanitation.

Farmers urge gov’t to release ‘political prisoners’

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 31, 2020) Farmers urge gov’t to release ‘political prisoners’ (By Chito Chavez)

Farmer’s group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) on Tuesday urged the President “to immediately release the more than 600 political prisoners and drop all trumped-up charges against them’’.
UMA chairperson Antonio Flores said, “We urge the government to free political prisoners right away as the country faces the Covid-19 pandemic, where prison cells can become hotspots for its outbreak.”

Human rights group Karapatan also reported that the congestion rate in the country’s jails is at 450 percent.

“Political prisoners, who are mostly peasant and union leaders, have been falsely detained for asserting the people’s right to land, just wages, and job security,” UMA said.

“Even National Democratic Front (NDF) peace consultants, who are mostly of old age, were not spared from arrest even if they are supposedly protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG),’’ the group added.

UMA emphasized that heavily congested prison cells can put at great risk political prisoners who now suffer the added injustice of dying from the pandemic just because they chose to stand up for peasants and workers’ rights.

Among the political prisoners languishing jail is Felicidad Caparal, an UMA organizer, who was abducted on January 27, 2009, and was identified in media as a “top-ranking NPA official” arrested for fabricated murder charges.

Flores said Caparal was then sentenced to life imprisonment and is currently detained at the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong.

“NDF peace consultants, Rey Casambre, Rommel Salinas, Renante Gamara, Vic Ladlad, Cleofe Lagtapon, Francisco Fernandez, Ferdinand Castillo, Leopoldo Caloza, Eduardo Sarmiento, Adelberto Silva and Esterlita Suaybaguio, have all been imprisoned for made-up common crimes based on planted evidences and concocted testimonies,’’ he said.

While the NDF remains open to the resumption of peace talks, UMA said the continued detention of peace consultants and persecution of political actions are a huge hurdle for the peace negotiations to resume.

Flores added “The Duterte administration can avoid the loss of thousands of lives in decongesting the country’s detention facilities by following the peoples’ demand, which has also pushed the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights to call on states to release political prisoners.”

“We reiterate this call, especially for the elderly, sick, pregnant women, nursing mothers, those who are due for parole or pardon, at least one spouse each of political prisoner couples and accidental victims of political arrests,” UMA concluded.

NDF: NPA rebels on medical mission when attacked

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 31, 2020): NDF: NPA rebels on medical mission when attacked (By Noreen Jazul)

Fidel Agcaoili of the National Democratic Front (NDF) on Monday said the members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Rodriguez, Rizal were conducting a medical mission when they were “attacked” by government forces.

NDFP negotiating panel representative Fidel Agcaoili

Citing a ground report he received from “friendly sources” in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Agcaoili said government soldiers went to the village where the medical mission was being held after “receiving a ‘tip’ that NPA guerrillas…were not in an offensive operation.”

Agcaoili also condemned the AFP for continuously “taking advantage of the ceasefire.”

“The NPA guerrillas were in the village to reach out to the community in response to the call of the CPP to secure the well-being and health of the people, especially in the fight against COVID-19,” Agcaoili, chief of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace negotiating panel, said in a statement.

Agcaoili said despite being “ill-equipped with medical supplies and halt paraphernalia,” the NPA guerrillas are on “24/7 mode” to help masses, particularly in far-flung communities to fight COVID-19.

“NPA guerrillas are imbued with the highest sense of dedication in attending to the welfare of the masses, including outbreaks of diseases and natural disasters,” he said.

Earlier, the Communist Party of the Philippines also claimed that the government forces engaged the clash with the NPA guerillas last Saturday in Barangay Puray, which left one rebel and one soldier dead.

CPP: Military, not Reds, initiated Rizal encounter

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 31, 2020): CPP: Military, not Reds, initiated Rizal encounter (By Martin Sadongdong)

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) claimed on Monday that it was the military that engaged the New People’s Army (NPA) unit in Rodriguez, Rizal that resulted in the death of a soldier and one rebel, and the wounding of two other security officers.


CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena cited an incident report released by the 2nd Infantry Battalion (2ID) which stated that Army troopers “conducted community defense patrol” in Barangay Puray last Saturday as a response to a tip that armed New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were planning to attack a group of Army troopers conducting community support work in the village.

“Based on AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) reports themselves, the armed clash last March 28 was an encounter which broke out when troops under the 2ID carried out patrol operations mounted by the local AFP unit,” Valbuena said.

“The claim that the NPA unit was planning an attack is baseless.”

As such, the communist officer said all units of the NPA will continue to uphold the ceasefire declaration of the CPP Central Committee to attend to the needs of the communities affected by COVID-19.

“The Party assures AFP soldiers that they will not be attacked during the ceasefire period especially if they are conducting public health activities in relation to efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Valbuena said.

Earlier, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo and AFP Chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. denounced the attack.
The encounter occurred amid an existing ceasefire between the government and the communist groups, and killed Corporal Chrisler Pan and an unidentified member of the NPA.

Two other soldiers were also wounded. They were identified as Staff Sergeant Ralph Angot and Private First Class Noel Palmes.

The CPP Central Committee announced on March 24 that it would heed the global call of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for an immediate ceasefire in conflicts around the world so that countries may turn their attention to fight COVID-19. The CPP’s ceasefire takes effect from March 26 to April 15.

Meanwhile, President Duterte declared on March 19 a unilateral ceasefire with the communist groups as he appealed to them to stop the attacks on the troops and help the government in containing the deadly disease. The government’s ceasefire will last until April 15.

But with the attack, Santos said the communist groups only proved that they “[threw] away their so-called ‘humanitarian principles’ and [exposed] the exploitative nature of their ceasefire declaration.”

What’s Next for the Philippines Communist Insurgency Under Duterte?

From The Diplomat (Mar 31, 2020): What’s Next for the Philippines Communist Insurgency Under Duterte? (By Prashanth Parameswaran)

A closer look at the state of one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies and its future prospects.

Credit: Flickr

Over the past week, we saw a new round of the on-again, off-again tensions between the Philippine government and communist forces. The developments marked yet another cycle in one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies, which is among the major internal security challenges that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte continues to face during his single six-year term out to 2022.

The struggle between the Philippine government and communist forces – specifically the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) along with its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), whose numbers have dwindled to around 4,000 members today by some estimates – has been going on for over half a century. Over 100,000 combatants and civilians have died in the conflict since 1969, with multiple efforts at peace failing to take off across administrations. While Duterte had offered fresh hope for the process given his background in the country’s south and links to founding CPP chair Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, getting to peace has nonetheless proven elusive since he came to office back in 2016.

That pattern has continued on over the past year as well. Talks between the Duterte government and the CPP have not led to any sustained progress beyond cycles of starts and stops. Meanwhile, the NPA has continued its operations in the Philippines, presenting both a security challenge of its own but also complicating the country’s internal security environment more generally. Besides the NPA challenge, the government is also managing a peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the south and tackling the ongoing threat of militancy and terrorism more generally from a range of groups including the Abu Sayyaf, the Maute Group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen another instance of on-again, off-again tensions between the Philippine government and communists. Last week, news emerged that the government and the CPP had agreed to a ceasefire amid the global coronavirus pandemic, marking a manifestation of the “global COVID ceasefire” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had called for. But in the days since, we have seen doubts cast about both the status and sustainability of the recent ceasefire and growing anxieties about a reversion to the previous cycle between all sides.

These developments come as no surprise. Beyond the Duterte administration’s approach, it is worth keeping in mind that under three of the past four Philippine administrations that had committed to peace talks before Duterte – Corazon Aquino, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III – perceived violations by both sides eventually led to a breakdown in talks amid an alternating cycle between negotiations and violence.

But the developments also reflect the broader challenges inherent in reaching peace. Irrespective of the political will among some segments in both the government and communist sides, there are divisions in both camps – with some communists uncomfortable with certain aspects of a deal with the Duterte government and the Philippine security forces and some political opponents reluctant to acquiesce to a deal that is seen as too conciliatory. It is also unclear whether both sides will have the necessary staying power to get past the obstacles they face, especially the Philippine government given the manifold security challenges it faces and the current state of COVID-19 in the country.

Of course, just because peace has proven elusive thus far does not mean that the communist insurgency in the Philippines is intractable. Crises such as COVID-19 have the potential to serve as an opportunity for peace as much as a challenge to it, depending on what the different parties choose to make of the situation. The recent inroads that the Duterte administration has made thus far with respect to the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front illustrates that one should be cautious about writing off incremental inroads toward peace even after decades of conflict. Nonetheless, the developments over the past few weeks do reinforce the difficulties of getting to peace even as both sides are getting more serious about doing so. That is important to keep in mind whenever we see waves of headlines about flickers of hope for peace.

[Prashanth Parameswaran is Senior Editor at The Diplomat based in Washington, D.C., where he produces analysis on Southeast Asian political and security issues, Asian defense affairs, and U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific.]