Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Security forces support Baste leading RPOC XI

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 15, 2023): Security forces support Baste leading RPOC XI (By RHODA GRACE SARON)

THE APPOINTMENT of Mayor Sebastian Duterte as the chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) received the full backing of the security forces here, believing that he can help sustain the gains against insurgency.

Newly promoted Major Mark Anthony Tito, the 10th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office chief, told reporters in yesterday’s AFP-PNP Press briefing held at The Royal Mandaya hotel that they welcome the appointment of Duterte.

“Expect that whatever our gains accomplished for the past year will be sustained,” he said.
“So, we fully support our RPOC chairman, Mayor Baste Duterte,” he added.

“Of course, we support whoever will be seated as RPOC chairman. I’m sure that Mayor Sebastian Duterte can handle the job well, and he has a lot of experience here in Davao City that he can apply in RPOC,” Major Eudisan Gultiano, spokesperson of PRO XI, said.

Based on the Facebook page post of the Presidential Communications Office, Mayor Sebastian Duterte has been appointed the RPOC XI chairperson.

Completing the composition of the council are Major General Jose Eriel Niembra as the vice chair, the commander of the 10th Infantry Division, and Brig Gen Benjamin Silo Jr., director of Police Regional Office XI.

In October last year, Davao Region was declared “insurgency-free” following the series of peace and order initiatives that dismantled the remnants of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the area.

Members of the Regional Peace and Order Council–Davao (RPOC-XI) signed a resolution declaring the entire region cleared of insurgents on Sept. 19, 2022. Davao became the third region in the country that eliminated the communist rebel threat, after regions I and IX.

In March last year, the city was declared insurgency-free, followed by Davao de Oro and Davao del Norte last June, Davao del Sur in July, Davao Occidental in August, and Davao Oriental in September.

COMELEC, AFP to discuss southern Negros ‘areas of concern’

From the Visayan Daily Star (Mar 16, 2023): COMELEC, AFP to discuss southern Negros ‘areas of concern’ (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

The Commission on Election is set to sit down with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police, to evaluate hinterland and insurgency-affected barangays in southern Negros, where numerous armed clashes between the military and New People’s Army have taken place, in line with the upcoming synchronized barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections to be held October 30 this year.

Provincial Comelec supervisor Atty. Ian Lee Ananoria yesterday said that they will discuss with AFP and PNP, if there is a need to declare “areas of concern,” based on the guidelines set by the Comelec.

Sporadic armed clashes that have taken place in the hinterlands of cities of Himamaylan City, from October last year, up to last month, has triggered the temporary displacement of thousands of residents, and the loss of lives, among government troops and rebels.

The filing of Certificates of Candidacy is slated for July 3 to 13.

That will be the time we will evaluate the candidates, who are they supporting, and the possibility of intense political rivalry in a barangay, Ananoria said.

Based on his previous past experiences, Ananoria disclosed that elections at the barangay level are heated and intense.

On the other hand, Ananoria also announced that the Election Registration Board (ERB) of all the 31 local government units in Negros Occidental have finished cleansing their list of voter’s applicants.

He said that Comelec officials from Manila are set to arrive in the province on March 20 to review and check the progress report and finalize the number of precincts so that the final voter’s list will be printed for the Barangay and Sanggunian Kabataan on October.

“By next week we can come up with the official report and know who the disapproved voter applicants are,” Ananoria said, noting that there are applicants who used fake IDs which were mostly PhilHealth IDs.

4 labor union members linked to Reds return to gov’t

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 15, 2023): 4 labor union members linked to Reds return to gov’t fold (By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)

(Photo courtesy of Taguig City Police)

MANILA – Four members of a group linked to the communist movement have returned to the fold of the law and withdrawn their support from the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

In a statement, Southern Police director Brig. Gen. Kirby John Kraft said the former members of the Alliance of Filipino Workers (AFW) took their oath of allegiance to the government at the Taguig City Fort Bonifacio Substation 1 at around 10 a.m. Wednesday.

"According to the report, Taguig City Police Substation 1 Commander together with Special Project Team-RIU NCR and Chief Intelligence Section, Taguig CPS facilitated the withdrawal of support of the four members of CTG sectoral group to the CPP-NPA-NDF and their oath of allegiance to the government," he added.

Kraft said the surrenderers are labor union members and are identified as sectoral personalities instigating anti-governmental sentiments and supporting communist Ideology.

"Likewise, they are active in the recruitment of new members and participating in mass actions/protest rallies organized by Communist fronts. They were identified as Kathlene Ramirez, nursing attendant, Jaime Regencia, ambulance driver, Bernardo Casila Aquino, nursing attendant and Joemarie Esmedina Eusebio, maintenance personnel," the SPD chief added.

With the formalization of their withdrawal of support to the communist group and oath of allegiance to the government, Kraft said other government agencies will come in for appropriate interventions to sustain their support and influence other members to do the same.

NPA rebel surrenders in Bulacan

From the Manila Times (Mar 16, 2023): NPA rebel surrenders in Bulacan (By Frederick Silverio)

CAMP GENERAL ALEJO SANTOS, City of Malolos: A member of the New People's Army (NPA) surrendered to authorities in San Rafael, Bulacan on Monday, March 13.

Col. Relly Arnedo, Bulacan Police provincial director, identified the rebel only as alias "Ka Toto," a 27-year-old construction worker and helper from Barangay Calumpang, San Miguel, Bulacan.

He turned over one unlicensed.38 caliber revolver without a serial number, along with five live ammunition.

Personnel from the 2nd Platoon of the 2nd Provincial Mobile Force Company (PMFC) facilitated the surrender.

Arnedo said Ka Toto was a member of the NPA's GF Narciso group operating in the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Aurora and Quezon.

"Ka Toto's surrender is a significant accomplishment in the government's efforts to end insurgency in the country. He will undergo investigation and custodial debriefing while under the custody of the 2nd PMFC," Arnedo said.

"The Bulacan Police is committed to intensifying its campaign against insurgency and terrorism to promote the delivery of government services, create opportunities and enhance the quality of life in communities that are at risk of or currently experiencing armed communist conflict."

Eyeing China, U.S. troops to drill on Philippine flashpoints

From the Washington Times (Mar 15, 2023): Eyeing China, U.S. troops to drill on Philippine flashpoints (By Andrew Salmon)

Two-week joint exercises in April said to be largest ever

U.S. Marines run to their position during an annual U.S.-Philippines joint war exercise titled Balikatan, Tagalog for "shoulder-to-shoulder," at Claveria, Cagayan province, northern Philippines, Thursday, March 31, 2022. U.S. and Filipino marines sprang from amphibious vehicles and transport helicopters to defend an island from potential aggressors during a military exercise and show of American firepower staged on Thursday in the northern Philippines. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) **FILE**

Philippine and U.S. troops will hold a wide-range set of joint drills next month in locations that could be strategically vital in potential conflict with China.

The Balikatan (“Shoulder to Shoulder”) exercises, to be held from April 11-28, are believed to the largest edition of the joint drills ever held between the two longtime allies. They come as the Biden administration has been trying to roll back Manila’s efforts to move closer to Beijing.

A spokesman from the Philippine armed forces told local press outlets that the drills will include some 12,000 American troops, some 5,500 local soldiers and around 100 Australians. Observers from Japan’s Self Defense Forces will also be present.

The drills will include coastal defense, cyberdefense and special-forces operations. According to Japanese press reports, American HIMARS precision multilaunch missiles systems will be deployed and — for the first time — the drills will feature live-fire naval exercises in the South China Sea.

The sea, one of the world’s most heavily trafficked commercial waterways, has emerged as a prime arena of competition between China, the U.S. and its allies. The Philippines is just one of a number of smaller countries in the region that have challenged Beijing’s aggressive maritime territorial claims in the region and the construction of new artificial islands that serve as forward Chinese military outposts.

Asked if the drills might irk China, Philippine Col. Michael Logico responded, “Every country has the absolute and inalienable right to exercise within our territory. We have the absolute, inalienable right to defend our territory.”

Among the locations for the drills are Palawan, in the Philippine archipelago’s west, and Luzon, in the north. Palawan is close to the newly established Chinese air naval bases that include harbors, runways, bunkers and underground munitions storage facilities in Subi Reef and Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.

The Chinese-occupied Spratlys are claimed by multiple nations, including Taiwan and the Philippines. Manila won a sweeping legal victory over China at an arbitration tribunal established under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea that rejected Beijing’s aggressive territorial claims.

China rejected the ruling, and given Beijing’s overwhelming naval advantage, Manila has been unable to enforce its case.

Key locations

The Balikatan training sites appear to be strategically chosen: Palawan is also an ideal interdiction base for regional shipping. Luzon commands the strategic Luzon Strait, which separates the Philippines and Taiwan. The channel is a key entry point to and from the open Pacific for Chinese warships.

Moreover, northern Luzon is located near the wide beaches of southern Taiwan — critical locations for any prospective Chinese amphibious invasion force. One of the Balikatan drills will involve helicopter landings on Calayan Island, which lies off the northern tip of Luzon, Japanese media stated.

One leading analyst said the ability to deploy American forces on Philippine soil in a crisis with China in either the South China Sea or over Taiwan is critical for Pentagon planners.

“The term is ‘dispersed lethality’ — an old term for a new battle,” said Alex Neill, a fellow of the Pacific Forum think tank. “It is all about projecting power into a space to deny that battlespace.”

Philippine islands would form ideal bases for HIMARS and land-launched cruise missiles, the Singapore-based Mr. Neill, who has studied regional defense, added.

Wednesday’s announcement of drills forms part of a wider trend: the rejuvenation of the Manila-Washington alliance under President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos. Mr. Marcos took power in 2022, replacing the populist and often anti-U.S. President Rodrigo Duterte, and has taken several steps to rebalance his country’s relations with China and the U.S.

The president, the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, has surprised many with his willingness to work with Washington and challenge China’s ambitions in the region. In a widely noted speech to the troops last month, Mr. Marcos said the mission of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the APF, had to evolve as the dynamic in the region have been altered.

“For many, many years, we were able to maintain that peace and maintain that understanding with all of our neighbors,” Mr. Marcos said Feb. 28. “Now things have begun to change and we must adjust accordingly.”

He did not explicitly single out China, but added pointedly, “We still have to fight for the rights of every Filipino because the Philippines is a sovereign nation and the Philippines has a functioning government.”

The just-announced drills are “indicative of Marcos’ resolve to demonstrate Philippine sovereignty,” said Mr. Neill. “I’d guess there is alarm in the Philippine establishment about a Taiwan Strait conflagration and a resolve to dial back what you might call the China appeasement of Duterte.”

This year, Manila and Washington have agreed to restart joint patrols in the South China Sea and visiting Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin secured a pledge from the Marcos government to grant U.S. troops rotating access to another four new military bases — making a total of nine — in the Philippines.

Though the locations of those bases have not been revealed, there has been speculation that they will include sites in Luzon and Palawan.

US and Philippine armies hold ‘Salaknib’ training exercise

From Army Technology Website (Mar 15, 2023): US and Philippine armies hold ‘Salaknib’ training exercise

This year’s exercise will see over 3,000 troops train in a variety of military operations.

US and Philippine soldiers conduct a live-fire exercise during Salaknib 2022. Credit: U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Mackintosh, 28th Public Affairs Detachment/U.S. Indo-Pacific Command/Flickr (Creative Commons).

The US Army Pacific (USARPAC) and the Philippine Army (PA) are conducting the annual bilateral training exercise, Salaknib 2023 (SN23).

An opening ceremony was held in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija. The first iteration of the exercise was held in 2016.

The army-to-army exercise will see participation from approximately 3,000 troops from the USARPAC’s 25th Infantry Division (25ID) and the PA’s 5th Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Division, and 1st Brigade Combat Team.

Philippine Army chief lieutenant general Romeo Brawner Jr. was quoted by the Philippine news agency (pna) as saying: “Indeed, there is much more we can learn from each other, and much more that we can do together, in the interest of Indo-Pacific security and wider security regional connectivity.”

He added: “In learning together, we enhance the capabilities and capacities to work together within the ever changing dynamics of global developments and Indo-Pacific concerns.”

The exercise, which will take place until 4 April, is intended to improve the readiness of the armed forces, boost relationships, and enhance interoperability between the 25ID and PA allies.

The participating personnel will train in a variety of military operations, such as various small-arms and manoeuvre live fire exercises (LFX), jungle training events, artillery, and mortar LFX events.

The troops will also take part in engineering and construction projects.

Philippine Army spokesperson colonel Xerxes Trinidad told pna: “The training audience will conduct bilateral exercises in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, and other venues in Central Luzon and Northern Luzon. ‘Salaknib”s first phase will precede Exercise ‘Balikatan’, slated for April 2023, while its second phase is scheduled for the third quarter of 2023.”

Last year, as many as 2,200 Filipino and US Army troops took part in the exercise.

Philippines: Largest war games with US not directed at China

From BenarNews (Mar 15, 2023): Philippines: Largest war games with US not directed at China

American marines stand atop a military vehicle as launch trucks carrying the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) take part in a live-fire drill during a U.S.-Philippines joint military exercise dubbed “Kamandag” (“Cooperation of the Warriors of the Sea”) in Capas, Tarlac province, Philippines, Oct. 13, 2022.  Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The largest-ever war games between the United States and the Philippines slated for next month are not meant to provoke China, a Filipino military official said Wednesday.

The Balikatan exercises, to run from April 11-28 and involve 17,600 troops from both sides, are for honing participants’ skills in “territorial defense,” said Col. Michael Logico, a spokesman for the Philippine contingent.

“Balikatan,” which means “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Tagalog, is the flagship annual set of joint training maneuvers between the two longtime allies, but this year’s edition will take place amid heightened tensions between rival superpowers the United States and China.

“There is nothing for them to criticize. First of all, a treaty exists and we are bound by treaty obligations to conduct this activity. Second, we are exercising inside our territory,” Logico told journalists.

He was referring to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and U.S. The agreement requires both parties to help each other respond to any external attack on their respective armed forces or territory.

“Why should they be critical? We have to remember that this exercise is for the defense of the country and there’s nobody else who will be defending this country except us Filipinos,” he said of the likelihood of a Chinese protest.

China so far has not made any comments about the exercises, but the Philippine military issued the statement ahead of anticipated criticism from Beijing. Some Filipino nationalist groups have in the past criticized the drills, saying these were bringing the Philippines closer to war in case hostilities break out between China and Taiwan, which Washington has committed to protect as well.

“This is also not a provocation. We are not provoking anybody by simply exercising,” the colonel said.

“Everything that we are doing here is only within our territory. Our exercises are not aggressive. We term our exercise as defenses so we are doing maritime defense, territorial defense, coastal defense.”

The 2023 Balikatan will have the largest number of participants since the annual exercise began in the 1990s.

One of the activities to be conducted is a ship-sinking exercise off Zambales, a Philippine province that faces Scarborough Shoal, or as Manila calls it, Panatag Shoal, a disputed territory in the South China Sea. The shoal is only 198 kilometers (123 miles) from the strategic Subic Bay but remains under Beijing’s control.

In 2016, A U.N. tribunal dismissed China’s sweeping claims over most of the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal, but Beijing refused to recognize the ruling.

Logico said the live-fire exercise would be held within the Philippines’ 12-nautical mile territorial waters.

“If other countries or other critics might think in the wrong way, we would like to tell them that this is actually a form of deterrence and there’s a difference between deterrence and provocation,” he said, without specifically naming China.

In line with the live-fire exercise off Zambales, Logico said the Americans procured a decommissioned fishing vessel, which is a little more than 200 feet long, to serve as a target.

Meanwhile, two F-22 fighter-jets from the U.S. Pacific Air Forces landed for the first time at Clark Air Base on Monday, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) said on Tuesday. They were accompanied by a KC-135 refueling tanker plane.

Col. Maria Consuelo Castillo, a PAF spokeswoman, said the Americans flew in the aircraft to “show capabilities.”

“The bilateral exchanges focused on the capabilities of fighter aircraft operated by the two air forces as a prelude to other upcoming engagements to promote air domain awareness, agile combat employment, interoperability and other bilateral air objectives,” Castillo said.

[Jeoffrey Maitem and Jojo RiƱoza contributed to this report from Manila and Dagupan City, northern Philippines.]

No more major ‘Balikatan’ drills in Ilocos Norte, say execs

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 15, 2023):  No more major ‘Balikatan’ drills in Ilocos Norte, say execs (By: John Michael Mugas) FILE PHOTO

LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte — Major “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) drills that were previously set in this province next month have been moved to Zambales province, the provincial government confirmed Wednesday.

Gervy James Gumarit, information officer of the Ilocos Norte government, told the Inquirer in a message that they “received a communication from the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines]” informing Gov. Matthew Marcos Manotoc that major events for the war games initially lined up in the province have been moved to Zambales.

Gumarit said that the information they received from AFP did not include any reasons why the major events were moved.

“We were only told na decision daw ng higher officers ng AFP,” said Gumarit.

READ: Next ‘Balikatan’ set in Marcos country

Among the events previously lined up in Ilocos Norte was the conduct of live-fire drills in Burgos town to test the newly acquired weapons systems of the US and Philippines.

There was supposed to be an observation area at the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse.

Balikatan spokesperson Col. Michael Logico also confirmed that no military exercise would be held in Ilocos Norte.

“We are doing it in Zambales. We were instructed to move it to Zambales,” he said.

The US-funded health center under Balikatan’s engineering civic assistance project would still be set up in San Joaquin village in Sarrat while “minor marine-to-marine activities in the 4th Marine Brigade” based in Burgos town would push through, said Logico.

In January, Logico and other officials from the US and Philippine militaries met with the provincial board, Ilocos Norte provincial police, and Philippine Marines to present and plan the security and logistics of what was to become the biggest war games so far, with 17,000 Filipino and American troops expected to participate.

On Monday, the provincial board approved a resolution that asked local government units in the province to “relocate” fishermen and residents in coastal areas where major events and firing points of the war games would have been held.

Gumarit, however, told the Inquirer that the Monday resolution was already “disregarded” in view of the developments.

Responding to the possible displacement and relocation, fisherfolk group Pamalakaya on Tuesday, March 14, condemned what they described as the “unacceptable” displacement of the affected fishermen.

“No Filipino fisherman deserves to be displaced from their communities to pave the way for foreign military exercises. What difference does the U.S. make to China that threatens the livelihood of Filipinos?” Ronnel Arambulo, Pamalakaya national spokesperson, told the Inquirer in an interview.

READ: Pamalakaya fears Balikatan drills may displace fisherfolk, disrupt livelihood

The major war games, which would have been held for the first time in Ilocos Norte province, would occur amid rising tensions between China and Taiwan.

Earlier, President Marcos told Nikkei Asia during a state visit to Japan in February that the Philippines could likely be dragged into a possible conflict in the Taiwan Strait because “of our geographic location.”

Marcos, who hails from Ilocos Norte, said that his home province is just a 40-minute flight away from the southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung. During his term as provincial governor, there were direct flights from Kaohsiung to Laoag International Airport.

“We feel that we are very much on the front line,” the president earlier said, adding that “nobody wants to go to war” as he urged that the two countries should look into resolving their conflict diplomatically rather than militarily. WITH A REPORT FROM JOANNA ROSE AGLIBOT

Pamalakaya fears Balikatan drills may displace fisherfolk, disrupt livelihood

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 15, 2023): Pamalakaya fears Balikatan drills may displace fisherfolk, disrupt livelihood (By Denver Godezano, trainee)

File photo of the Balikatan exercises back in 2022. FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — A militant fisherfolk group condemned on Wednesday the possible displacement of fishers when Balikatan exercises are conducted this year in fishing communities.

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) issued the statement in reaction to a resolution approved by the Ilocos Norte provincial board, pushing municipalities and cities to “possibly relocate fisherfolk from fishing along the areas” where major events of the drills would be held.

The coastal towns of Burgos, Pagudpud, Bangui, Pasuquin, Bacarr, Paoay, Currimao, Badoc, and the capital city of Laoag will be affected.

“Similar to the threat of Chinese forces to the livelihood of Filipino fishers in the West Philippine Sea, the American soldiers are about to displace our fishers for the sake of their Balikatan drills. This is unacceptable and should be opposed strongly not only by the fishing sector but also the patriotic Filipinos,” Pamalakaya said.

There are 17,000 troops estimated to participate in this year’s Balikatan exercises that will be held from April 11 to 28 as part of joint military exercises between the United States and the Philippines.

“Filipino fishers do not deserve to be displaced from their livelihood only to provide a security blanket to foreign forces carrying out military drills accompanied with live fire exercises at sea. We are demanding the US troops to leave the Filipino fishers in peace and bring their warmongering power projection elsewhere,” said Ronnel Arambulo, Pamalakaya national spokesperson, in the same statement.

The group also cautioned that the exercise could increase tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea, which could further jeopardize the safety of Filipino fishers.

“We were not wrong in opposing the presence of American troops right from the start. It’s crystal clear that the US is no different from China when it comes to threatening Filipino fisherfolk and our national sovereignty,” said Arambulo. 


A ‘Balikatan’ first: PH-US drills to sink boat in WPS

Minority solon hopes Balikatan, Edca include scenarios for specific emergencies

US acquires old fishing vessel for 'Balikatan' live-fire drills

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 15, 2023): US acquires old fishing vessel for 'Balikatan' live-fire drills (By Priam Nepomuceno)

(File photo)

MANILA – The United States has acquired a decommissioned fishing vessel that would be used for the live-fire at sea segment of this year's "Balikatan" exercises.

"We are going to fire at a target and we have a target vessel that the US procured for this purpose so the HIMARS (high mobility artillery rocket system), artillery will not be firing just into the water, they will be firing at a target," Col. Michael Logico, "Balikatan 2023" spokesperson, said in an interview with reporters Wednesday.

Logico said the decommissioned fishing vessel is about 200 feet long and would be towed into the water where it would be targeted by the US and Philippine weapon systems available for this year's "Balikatan" exercise.

"We will tow it out into the water and we will hit it with all the weapons systems that we have, both ground, navy, and air, so that will be our target," he said.

These waters will be close to the Naval Education, Training and Doctrine Command (NETDC) in San Antonio, Zambales.

"It's closer to NETDC, it's within territorial waters," the military official added.

Logico said aside from the decommissioned fishing vessel, smaller targets would be targeted and fired by smaller artillery.

The "Balikatan 2023" spokesperson said these targets, especially the fishing vessel, are stripped and cleaned of all toxic materials as stipulated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources before being used for this activity.

"They will all be stripped, especially the (fishing) vessel that we will be hitting to make sure that when it sinks it will not pose as hazard to future navigation and will not endanger the ecosystem sub-surface," said Logico, who is also director of the Joint and Combined Training Center of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

No provocation meant

Logico, meanwhile, said the "Balikatan" exercises are not meant to provoke anyone.

"This is also not a provocation, we are not provoking anybody by simply exercising, I can do anything I want within my territorial land, within my territorial waters, so this is not a provocation," he added.

Logico also noted that these exercises are not aggressive as they are focused on defense.

"We are doing maritime defense, territorial defense, coastal defense. We are not extending beyond our territory and besides, if other countries or other critics might think in the wrong way, we would like to tell them that this is actually a form of deterrence and there is a difference between deterrence and provocation. A deterrence is when we are discouraging other parties from invading us. A provocation is when we are taunting other countries to invade us," he said.

Logico also said the purpose of "Balikatan" is to upgrade the skills of Filipino soldiers.

About 17,600 Filipino and American troops would participate in this year's "Balikatan" exercise, which is scheduled from April 11 to 28. The number includes 12,000 American troops while the remainder are Filipino troops.

About 111 members of the Australian Defense Force will be participating in events, like "special operations and smaller land-based exercises."

Logico said these forces would be operating in "areas in Northern Luzon, Palawan, and Antique."

Japan, South Korea, along with member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are expected to deploy observers to this year's joint military exercise.

He said this year's drills are "officially, the largest Balikatan exercise" ever.

Before this, the largest number of participants was recorded in 2015 when about 5,000 Filipino troops took part, along with 6,500 US soldiers.

In 2022, an estimated 3,800 AFP members and 5,100 American troops took part in that iteration of "Balikatan."

In 2021, only 415 Filipino and 226 American military personnel participated in the annual exercise while in 2020, the "Balikatan" was canceled due to the pandemic.

Balikatan 2023 includes live fire exercises in Zambales waters

From ABS-CBN (Mar 15, 2023): Balikatan 2023 includes live fire exercises in Zambales waters (By Bianca Dava)

Philippine Army and U.S. Army Pacific troops conduct a cold load training exercise geared at enhancing their skills in entering and exiting an inactive helicopter in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija on April 4, 2022. Sgt Sanny E Palatao PA/ OG7, TRADOC, PA/File

MANILA — The 2023 Balikatan exercises between the Philippines and the United States will focus more on maritime defense, coastal defense, and maritime domain awareness.

The Balikatan or “shoulder-to-shoulder” is the largest annual Philippine-led bilateral exercise of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with the US Armed Forces.

For the first time, this year’s activities will involve live fire exercises, specifically in the waters off Zambales.

Col. Michael Logico, the spokesperson of the Balikatan 2023, said unlike in the past, some activities this year would be held “outside our traditional training areas.”

“Balikatans in the past were held inside military camps, but now we are venturing outside our traditional training areas. The reason is, in CERAB and Fort Magsaysay, it’s a landlocked training area. What you can only exercise there are the land and air components. There’s nothing you can do with the Navy,” Logico told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday.

“The only way you can test the interoperability between the service components is to go into the littoral areas,” he added.

During the live fire exercise at sea, Filipino and American troops will fire at and sink a target vessel, an old fishing boat, some 12 nautical miles off Zambales.

“We are going to fire at a target. We have a target vessel that the US procured for this purpose. The HIMARS, our artillery will not be firing into open water, but to a target. We’ve been able to acquire a decommissioned and old fishing boat measuring a little over 200 feet and we will tow it out into the water and we will hit it with all the weapon systems we have—ground, Navy and air,” Logico, who is also the director of the Joint and Combined Training Center of the AFP Education, Training and Doctrine Command, explained.

He went on, “We will have smaller targets but these will be for the smaller artillery. We have to deconflict how we hit those targets. Those targets have been cleared and stripped of all toxic materials per requirement of the DENR… to make sure that when it sinks, it will not pose a hazard to future navigation and not endanger the ecosystem subsurface.”

More troops expected in Balikatan 2023 to prepare vs 'threats': PH Army
AFP gearing up for PH-US Balikatan exercises in April

This year’s iteration of the joint military training between the AFP and US Armed Forces will also include cyber defense exercises.

“The cyber domain is very important because a lot of our subsystems in command and control, and intelligence all rely on cyber domain. It is also easily compromised when an adversary so decides and has a capability to undermine our capabilities,” Logico noted.

He then continued, “This is long overdue that we pay attention to the cyber domain. From the planning conducted last year, we will be creating scenarios involving cyber-attacks. It’s basically hardening and strengthening our cyber systems.”

More than 17,000 Filipino and American soldiers are set to join the Balikatan 2023, described as the largest iteration of the joint training exercises.

Around 12,000 of the soldiers will come from the US military while around 5,000 will be from the AFP. A hundred more from the Australian Defense Force will join and take part in smaller events, mostly land-based exercises.

There will also be observers from Japan, South Korea, ASEAN, the United Kingdom, France, and India.

“The presence of observers helps carry over our strategic message back to their countries. They can get the message across to their leadership that this is the effect of this exercise, the regional implications and the training benefits that serve both sides,” Logico said.

“It also opens the possibility of widening the exercise to more than just a bilateral exercise. There’s a possibility we can expand this to a multilateral exercise if need be. Sometimes, it’s also reciprocal. They can also invite us to observe their exercises,” the Balikatan spokesperson added.

This year’s Balikatan will be held from April 11 to 28 in various areas in the country, including Palawan, Antique, and parts of Northern Luzon.

Asked if the exercises would factor in the West Philippine Sea problem with China, Logico asserted that “every country has the inalienable and absolute right to defend its territory.”

“There is no excuse for us not to do this,” he added. “A treaty [Mutual Defense Treaty] exists and we are bound by treaty obligations to conduct this activity. Second, we are exercising inside our territory… It all boils down to an improvement in our combat capability and readiness.”

Logico said the joint exercises are not meant to provoke any country.

“This exercise is for the defense of the country… With or without the MDT, we should be prepared to defend our country by ourselves. But we cannot do that unless we upgrade our skills. That’s what Balikatan is for,” he noted. “This is not a provocation. We are not provoking anybody by simply exercising.”

According to Logico, the US Armed Forces will be bringing in military assets, including weapon systems, ships and aircraft, while the AFP will be using its newly-acquired frigates, FA-50 jets and artillery in the Balikatan.

“On the AFP side, our 105mm Howitzers, 155mm Howitzers, two of our Navy ships, frigates and our FA-50s, together with the Super Tucanos and Black Hawk helicopters. The US will bring in their HIMARS, Patriot missiles, Avengers, M29s. This will be an exchange of skill and knowledge when it comes to joint operations. When we train with the Americans, it’s always an opportunity for us to learn something new,” Logico said.

“When I started Balikatan, I thought the US had and knew everything. I discovered they are just like us. They are also operating with certain degrees of uncertainty… You’ll be surprised, they also have something to learn from us as well,” he concluded.

Philippines, US to hold 'largest' Balikatan military exercises

In a first, Manila-US drills to sink boat in West Philippine Sea

 From The Star (Mar 15, 2023): In a first, Manila-US drills to sink boat in West Philippine Sea

Photo from 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command. - PDI Read more: Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network): Filipino and American troops will sink a target vessel near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea when the two allies carry out next month their largest joint military exercise to date, a military official told the Inquirer on Tuesday (March 14).

The Philippines and the United States have ramped up defence cooperation under President Marcos in the face of China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea and its potential invasion of Taiwan and will put on their biggest exercise in history with the participation of 17,000 troops from both sides. This is nearly twice the 8,900 soldiers who joined last year.

The annual joint military exercises — called “Balikatan” or “shoulder-to-shoulder” that will run from April 11 to 28 — will feature some 12,000 US soldiers and 5,000 Filipino troops. Australia will send about a hundred soldiers, while like-minded countries will join as observers.

The activities will be held across Northern Luzon and the provinces of Palawan and Antique.

The anticipated sinking exercise of an old fishing vessel will be held some 22km (12 nautical miles) off Zambales, or about 185km (100 nautical miles) from Panatag Shoal which China seized from the Philippines in 2012, according to Balikatan spokesperson Col Michael Logico.

He said it would be conducted by the two countries for the first time as the forthcoming drills focus on “maritime defence, coastal defense and maritime domain awareness.”

“We will be sinking a target vessel using a combination of artillery naval gunfire and aviation weapons... We will be firing HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), our artillery ... a combination of Philippine Air Force and US Air Force rockets and bombs, and our frigates,” Logico said of the sinking exercise.

The US Army will also hold its first Patriot missile air-defense exercise in the country as part of a coastal defencse live-fire exercise, Logico added.

Last year, the United States deployed the Patriot, which stands for “Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept of Target,” as part of a mobilization exercise for the Balikatan drills. It was not used for live-fire training then.

Such a weapon system, touted as one of the world’s most advanced air defense systems, was provided by the United States to Ukraine to counter Russian missile and drone attacks. It can track and shoot down incoming missiles and aircraft with a minimum flight time of less than nine seconds and can travel up to 70km to a target.

“This Balikatan seems to be designed to test operational concepts to enhance strategic deterrence posture of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea,” Rommel Jude Ong, a former vice commander of the Philippine Navy, told the Inquirer.

He said the large-scale deployment of American troops was a logistics exercise “to assess how it can rapidly deploy a large number of troops and equipment in theatre.”

The sinking exercise would likewise test the Philippine Navy’s sea denial strategy, he said.

“It is premised on the idea that a land-based anti-ship missile can defend the country’s waters from any adversary’s naval shipping, even from a distance,” he pointed out.

The use of the Patriot, meanwhile, would allow the AFP to understand “the need for an anti-air defense system which can protect our land and critical infrastructures from conventional ballistic threats,” Ong said.

When asked if the upcoming joint exercise could stir up China, Logico said: “We have the absolute, inalienable right to defend our territory. We are here to show that we are combat-ready.”

The defence of the Philippine archipelago from potential foreign aggressors is also the focus of the ongoing joint drills between the armies of the Philippines and the United States.

About 3,000 soldiers from the Philippine Army and the US Army are taking part in the annual “Salaknib” (shield in Ilocano) Exercise, which was first held in 2014,

The Army, the Philippine military’s largest service branch, is shifting its focus to territorial defense from insurgency amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

“We will now be training on scenarios that would require us to work together to face adversaries from out of the country,” Army chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said on Monday on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of Salaknib at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province.

“We will focus on defence operations such as air defence and defence from the shorelines,” he added.

This year’s Salaknib, considered a prelude to the Balikatan exercises, is being conducted in two phases across northern Luzon, including Fort Magsaysay, one of the first five agreed locations under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, a deal that gives the US access to Philippine bases for joint training and prepositioning of equipment.

Kalinaw News: Tatlong miyembro ng NPA nagbalik-loob sa gobyerno sa Matuguinao, Samar

From Kalinaw News (Mar 15, 2023): Tatlong miyembro ng NPA nagbalik-loob sa gobyerno sa Matuguinao, Samar (Three members of the NPA converted to the government in Matuguinao, Samar)

Brgy. Bag-otan, Matuguinao, Samar|| Bandang alas 12 ng tanghali, tatlo (3) na namang myembro ng CPP-NPA ang nagbalik-loob sa tunay na gobyerno. Ang isa rito ay pinuno ng isang pangkat na namumugad at humahawak sa mga Barangay na sakop ng Bayan ng Matuguinao, at ang dalawa nama’y kanyang mga pinagkakatiwalaang nasasakupan.
Bagama’t paubos na ang CTGs dito sa atin AOR, patuloy pa rin ang paghihikayat ng mga ito sa mga nabawing barangay, na ngayo’y ELCAC BARANGAYS, na umabib uli sa kanila.

Pero sa kalauna’y napagtanto nila na hindi ito ang tamang laban sa bugay, kundi ang makiisa sa demokrasya kasa ang pamilya at ang totoong gobyerno , na may malasakit at tunay na pagkalinga sa tao.

Dahil sa huwARAN program ni Mayor Aran dela Cruz Boller na naglalayong maiangat ang pamumuhay at isulong ang pangkalahatang pag-unlad, at ipagpauna ang tunay na kapayapaan at pagkakasundo sa pagitan ng mga rebelde at pamahalaan, ipinagkatiwala nitong ating mga kapatid ang kanilang taos-pusong pagbalik-loob sa kawan ng ating batas.
Nagpapasalamat ang ating butihing alkalde,

Aran dela Cruz Boller, sa ating mga kapatid sa kanilang kagustuhnag mamuhay ng mapayapa kasama ang kanilang pamilya at kalinga ng ating gobyerno. Kasabay nito, ay ang kanyang pakiusap at panawagan para sa mga natitira pa sa bundok na bumaba na at makipagsundo tulad ng iba.

Hinihikayat din ng alkalde ang mga kaibigan, kapamilya at mga kapatid na patuloy parin sumusuporta sa kilusan na unawain ang buhay na bigay ng maykapal, at gamitin ito sa para sa kaayusan at kapayapaan sa bayang kanyang hinirang. Hindi paghihimagsik ang sukatan ng pag-uusap at kalutasan ng mga di pagkakasundo, kundi ang pagbibigay ng mga akmang mungkahi sa angkop na pamamaraan.
Ang ating pagpupugay at parangal inaalay natin sa ating Poong Maylikha.

Salamat sa ating ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES, PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE, PNP-SAF at ibang pang sangay ng pamahalaan na tumulong sa atin sa maayos na PAGBALIK-LOOB ng ating mga kapatid.

[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.]

Kalinaw News: Onto the right track – Another ASG Member returns to the folds of law

From Kalinaw News (Mar 15, 2023): Onto the right track – Another ASG Member returns to the folds of law

Brgy Parian Kayawan, Lugus, Sulu 13 March 2023: Another former member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) was presented by the 2nd Special Forces “Sabertooth” Battalion under Ltc Benito G Ramos Jr Inf (GSC) PA to BGen Eugenio C Boquio PA, Commander, 1101IBde and to the Lugus MTF-ELAC chaired by Hadar Hajiri, Municipal Mayor, Lugus, Sulu.

The returnee was yielded by the 4th Special Forces Company, 2nd Special Forces Battalion through their relentless intelligence operations in their Area of Operations. The returnee was identified as @Jully under ASG Senior Leader Radullan Sahiron. He was originally based in Brgy Bilaan, Talipao, Sulu before going on a lie-low status in Brgy Sibul, Lugus, Sulu after seven (7) years of being ang active member of the ASG. He is also the nephew of the wife of ASG Senior Leader Radullan Sahiron.

The returnee surrendered one M1 Garand Rifle bearing Serial Number 1478354.

He is set to be included in the ASG Returnee Reintegration Program, through Lugus MTF-ELAC, that aims to support those Former Violent Extremists (FVEs) who wish to return to the mainstream of the society and start a new and peaceful life. “We are on track in finishing the ASG Problem. With the help of the community, the Local Government Units (LGUs), and other partner stakeholders, we hope to end their terrorist agenda so that we, as one, can proceed to development and gradually bring progress to the Province of Sulu.” notes BGen Boqiuo.

[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.]

Kalinaw News: “Isa na namang dating kontak at supporter ng Communist NPA Terrorist, kusang loob na nag suko ng M16 A1 Rifle”

From Kalinaw News (Mar 15, 2023): “Isa na namang dating kontak at supporter ng Communist NPA Terrorist, kusang loob na nag suko ng M16 A1 Rifle” ("Another former contact and supporter of the Communist NPA Terrorists, voluntarily surrendered an M16 A1 Rifle")

Sa tuloy-tuloy na community visitation at puspusang kampanya na isinasagawa ng 85IB at Kapulisan, isang dating kontak at supporter ng Communist NPA ang kusang loob na nag suko ng M16 A1 rifle ngayong 14 ng Marso taong kasalukuyan sa himpilan ng 85IB, Brgy White Cliff, San Narciso, Quezon.

Ayon sa nagsuko, bilang dating kontak o supporter ng armadong grupo, pinagkatiwalaan at ipinatago sa kanya ng mga NPA ang nasabing armas. Ngunit dahil sa sunod-sunod na labanan na nagdulot sa pagkamatay ng mga teroristang NPA at sa walang tigil na community visitation ng mga kasundaluhan at kapulisan sa kanilang lugar naisip na niyang ipagbigay alam at isuko ang nasabing armas.

Dahil dito taos pusong nagpasalamat si Lieutenant Colonel Joel R Jonson; ang Battallion Commander ng 85IB sa patuloy na pagtitiwala ng mga mamamayan sa sinsiridad at hangarin ng pamahalaan para sa kapayapaan at kaunlaran. Kasabay nito, ang pagbibigay ng kaunting pabuya sa nagsuko ng Armas.

[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.]

Kalinaw News: Military troops discover abandoned houses, seize war materials in Maguindanao del Norte

From Kalinaw News (Mar 15, 2023): Military troops discover abandoned houses, seize war materials in Maguindanao del Norte

Camp Navarro, Calarian, Zamboanga City – March 15, 2023

While conducting combat clearing operations, troops of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-5 (MBLT-5) discovered five abandoned houses in Barangay Nabalawag, Barira, Maguindanao del Norte on Sunday afternoon, March 12, 2023.

Joint Task Force Central Commander, Maj. Gen. Alex Rillera said that while the operating troops were scouring the area for possible enemy tracks, they recovered six rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 19 81mm ammunition, two mortar base plate, undetermined number of cal. 50 ammunition, undetermined number of rifle grenades, undetermined number of M203 ammunition, one rocket-propelled grenade, and other war materials. Troops also found a printed tarpaulin with markings “Bangsamoro Government Headquarters, BRD, GHQ.”

Operating troops established defensive positions, secured the area, and coordinated with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team of the 1st Marine Brigade for the recovery of the explosives and ammunition. The EOD immediately disposed the explosives and brought other war materials to 1MBde Headquarters at Sitio Bomabaran, Togaig, Barira for documentation and safekeeping.

Investigation is currently being conducted to gather information regarding the possible source of ammunition and other relevant information.

Lt. Gen. Roy Galido, Commander of the Western Mindanao Command, lauded the marine troops of MBLT-5 for this accomplishment.

“Rest assured that we will remain steadfast in neutralizing the remnants of the different threat groups in our area of operation. This accomplishment proves that the enemies of the state have nowhere else to go but to return to the folds of the law,” Lt. Gen. Galido said.

[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.]

Slain suspect in Degamo killing identified as ex-rebel

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 15, 2023): Slain suspect in Degamo killing identified as ex-rebel (By Mary Judaline Partlow)

SLAIN SUSPECT. The Special Joint Task Force Negros has identified the sixth suspect in the March 4 gun slay of then Gov. Roel Degamo and eight others in Pamplona, Negros Oriental. The slain suspect was identified, based on revelations of other arrested suspects as an ex-New People's Army member from Bindoy, Negros Oriental. (Photo courtesy of the JTF Negros)

DUMAGUETE CITY – The Special Joint Task Force Negros said Wednesday that the slain suspect in the March 4 killing of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and eight others was a former member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

The slain suspect was identified as Arnil Labradilla of Sitio Awang, Barangay Atotes in Bindoy town, Negros Oriental.

Labradilla was identified based on revelations by other suspects apprehended during the pursuit operations by military and police personnel hours after the attack, Maj. Cenon Pancito III, task force spokesperson, told the Philippine News Agency.

He was killed after he allegedly resisted arrest and engaged in a shootout with pursuing troops hours after at least 10 gunmen barged into the residential compound of Degamo in Pamplona town and shot the governor including several people who were there to seek assistance.

Of the six suspects identified, Pancito said four are already in the custody of the Department of Justice (DOJ), and have cooperated with authorities. The fifth suspect, who surrendered, is still undergoing investigation procedures, while the slain former rebel was brought to his hometown after his parents claimed the body.