Tuesday, May 16, 2023

PH, Japan, US security partnership still in the works: DFA

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16, 2023): PH, Japan, US security partnership still in the works: DFA (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

BILATERAL MEETING.Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo (left) during a bilateral meeting with his counterpart Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa in Tokyo on Tuesday (May 16, 2023). The two officials agreed to steadily implement all Philippine-Japan cooperation projects be it bilaterally, multilaterally or trilaterally with the United States. (Photo courtesy of Japanese MOFA)

MANILA – The Philippine government said on Tuesday that talks on the possible trilateral security partnership with Japan and the United States are in the works but still in “very early stages.”

On the sidelines of a policy talk in Tokyo, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Manila has already conducted “some trilateral activities” with Japan and the US in the Sulu Sea but the detailed scope of the partnership itself is still yet to be established.

“[T]here was an understanding that we should explore the possibility of trilateral arrangements, but at this stage, we still have to discuss the Terms of Reference, what kind of activities, so it's really very much in the early stages,” he said.

“The important thing is there is an understanding of the principle that it would be useful to have such types of trilateral cooperation activities,” he added.

In a bilateral meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, the two officials agreed to steadily implement all Philippine-Japan cooperation projects, be it bilaterally, multilaterally or trilaterally with the United States.

The two ministers also affirmed to work closely on regional issues, including the South China Sea, economic coercion, the situation in Ukraine, and dealing with North Korea, including nuclear and missile, and abduction issues.

Aside from security, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said both diplomats discussed economic cooperation, with Hayashi reiterating Japan’s intention to actively support the Philippines to reach the upper middle-income status.

“In response, Secretary Manalo expressed deep appreciation for the assistance from Japan for the Philippine economic development, and the two ministers concurred on continued cooperation,” the MOFA said.

The meeting followed the official visit of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in Tokyo last February where he and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to strengthen the overall security cooperation between the two states through strategic reciprocal port calls and aircraft visits, transfer of more defense equipment and technology, and continuous cooperation on previously-transferred defense equipment, among others.

According to Manalo, there has been “steady progress” on the two states’ defense equipment transfer project.


Canada, PH to discuss maritime, defense cooperation

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16, 2023): Canada, PH to discuss maritime, defense cooperation (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

VISITING GUEST. Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly. The Philippines and Canada are expected to deepen relations on defense and maritime cooperation during the upcoming visit of Joly on May 19, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Foreign Minister Joly's FB page)

MANILA – The Philippines and Canada are expected to deepen relations on defense and maritime cooperation during the upcoming visit of Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday said Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo will be meeting Joly on May 19 where he will bring up cooperation on the said areas as well as the recent developments in the West Philippine Sea, the Asia-Pacific and Europe.

The two top diplomats will also discuss enhanced trade and investment and cooperation in the energy sector, among others, the DFA said.

“I welcome Foreign Minister Joly’s visit to the Philippines as an avenue to deepen our two countries’ collaboration based on our shared values, including democracy and adherence to a rules-based international order,” Manalo said.

“The Philippines and Canada’s continued cooperation shows how partnerships based on those shared values can withstand numerous challenges and obstacles. I look forward to discussing matters of mutual interest and benefit to our countries and I am optimistic that this meeting can build on our nations’ rich and storied friendship,” he added.

The anticipated meeting is the fourth visit of a Canadian Cabinet minister during the Marcos administration, which the DFA said indicates a “return to high-level engagements between the two countries.”

The visit came less than a year since Canada launched its CAD2.3 billion Indo-Pacific strategy that positions Manila as its important partner in the region.

Last March, Canadian Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan personally relayed to Manalo the intent to strengthen collaboration in building capacity, especially in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), combatting illegal fishing, food security, agriculture and health.

With Joly, the DFA said Manalo will also highlight the strong people-to-people ties between the two states, specifically the large Filipino diaspora in Canada.

Data from the DFA showed there are almost a million individuals of Filipino descent in Canada, representing 2.59 percent of the country’s population.

Bilateral ties between the two countries began in December 1949 when Canada established a trade mission in Manila.


PH, Australia hold joint military drills

From the Manila Times (May 16, 2023): PH, Australia hold joint military drills (By Franco Jose C. Baroña)

IT is Australia's turn to hold joint military maneuvers with the Philippines.

The bilateral exercise between the Philippine Army and the Australian Defense Force, named Exercise Kasangga, kicked off at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, on Monday.

Last month, the Philippines and United States conducted the biggest Balikatan exercise so far.

This time, around 200 troops from the Philippines and 50 from Australia will take part in the monthlong exercise.

Kasangga will focus on urban operations, combat tracking, jungle warfare and survival training, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

The opening ceremony was led by Army Assistant Division Commander Brig. Gen. Augusto Villareal of the 2nd Infantry Division and Australian Defense Attaché to the Philippines Col. Paul Joseph Barta.

The first Kasangga exercise was conducted in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, from April 11 to June 27, 2022.

The Philippines and Australia have robust military ties.

In 1995, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperative defense activities laying the foundation for the Joint Defense Cooperation Committee.

A Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (Sovfa) entered into force in September 2012, providing the comprehensive legal and operational framework for defense cooperation. The Sovfa was instrumental during the aftermath of Typhoon "Yolanda" in 2013, when Australia provided rapid medical assistance, humanitarian and reconstruction support involving over 500 service personnel, numerous aircraft and the Landing Ship Heavy HMAS Tobruk.

In 2015, a comprehensive partnership was signed and new bilateral initiatives developed. In March 2017, there were navy-to-navy strategic level talks co-chaired by the deputy chief of the Royal Australian Navy and the vice commander of the Philippine Navy.


2023 Balikatan CE SME exchange

From Pacific Air Forces Website (May 16, 2023): 2023 Balikatan CE SME exchange

Published May 15, 2023
By 18 Civil Engineer Group
18 Civil Engineer GroupPhilippines --

To maintain a strong relationship and increase interoperability in the Indo-Pacific, 18th Wing Airmen with the 18th Civil Engineer Group engaged in a four-day Subject Matter Expert Exchange event with the Philippines air force’s 355th Aviation Engineer Wing from Apr. 10 to Apr. 14, 2023. 

The group shared techniques and procedures on Airfield Damage Repair (ADR), including the use of Dynamic Cone Penetrometer (DCP) and Fiber-Reinforced Polymer (FRP) mat. 

18 CEG engineers also met with PAF Brigadier General Rey Bes, where he expressed his excitement for the partnership and looked forward to the continued collaboration as a part of Balikatan exercises in the future.


The 36 CRSS and the 327 AS give back to the Cebu community

Posted to DVIDS (May 16, 2023): The 36 CRSS and the 327 AS give back to the Cebu community (By Airman 1st Class Lauren Clevenger)

Courtesy Photo | Airmen from the 36th Contingency Response Support Squadron, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam and the 327th Airlift Squadron, Arkansas Air National Guard, collaborated together during Balikatan 2023, to volunteer for the Children’s Joy Foundation in Cebu, Philippines, April 22, 2023. Tasks ranged from organizing activities with the children, to giving them food and toys and repairing the CJFI Cebu Residential Facility. (Courtesy photo)

Story by Airman 1st Class Lauren Clevenger
36th Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from the 36th Contingency Response Support Squadron, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam and the 327th Airlift Squadron, Arkansas Air National Guard, collaborated together during Balikatan 2023, to volunteer for the Children’s Joy Foundation in Cebu, Philippines, April 22, 2023. Tasks ranged from organizing activities with the children, to giving them food and toys and repairing the CJFI Cebu Residential Facility.

“We cleaned up the area, painted the buildings and played with the children,” said Capt. Teddy Barbosa, 36th CRSS mission commander. “The best part of the whole experience was definitely the interaction with the kids. They put on a concert for us, and it was a delight to see the joy on their faces.”

Volunteering at the orphanage not only benefited the children, but also provided personal growth and a deeper understanding of different cultures for the Airmen.

“This experience taught me the valuable lesson to always be grateful for what you have, regardless of who you are,” said MSgt. Richard Wilkins, 36th CRSS air advisor.

This was the first community engagement event the 36th CRSS held in another country. The successful event was the beginning of a trend for the squadron to engage with the communities regularly and forge meaningful relationships.

“We do military training with these countries, but we should also take the time to do something with the community,” said Barbosa. “You don’t know what’s going on in the community or what help they may need until you are out there looking for it.”


Sabah’s sea curfew zone to be downsized in phases starting with Tawau, says IGP

Posted to The Star (May 16, 2023): Sabah’s sea curfew zone to be downsized in phases starting with Tawau, says IGP (By DURIE RAINER FONG)

Acryl Sani says the curfew will likely be renamed Kawasan Kawalan Pergerakan Terhad, or Restricted Movement Control Area.

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s east coast dusk-to-dawn sea curfew enforced since 2014 is set to be downsized amid reducing cross-border kidnap threats, especially from the weakened Abu Sayyaf Group.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said the police were also looking to change the name of the exercise, known as the perintah berkurung or curfew, into the Kawasan Kawalan Pergerakan Terhad (Restricted Movement Control Area).

Presently, the curfew covers areas up to three nautical miles off Sandakan, Beluran, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau.

Under the curfew, residents in areas covered by the rule are required to stay at home from 6pm to 6am while outsiders are not allowed to enter the curfew zones.

Following an operational meeting with the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) on Monday (May 15), the agency tasked with overseeing safety in the state’s east coast, Acryl Sani said the police will assess from time to time the type of controls to be implemented in the said areas.

He also said that, for a start, the police have proposed for Tawau waters to be excluded from the exercise, adding he hoped this would be implemented soon.

“We will carry out studies and recommend to the government which waters need to be maintained in the Restricted Movement Control Area and which areas could be excluded,” he told reporters on Tuesday (May 16).

“We will do this in phases if we are convinced the threats of kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) do not exist anymore,” he added.

Acryl Sani was speaking after accepting a mock key for the handover of the Inanam Police Force Housing project presented by Home Ministry secretary-general Datuk Ruji Ubi here.

Towards this end, Acryl Sani also said that it was not the time to completely end the curfew despite a lull in cross-border kidnappings in the past three years.

“This doesn’t mean such incidents won’t happen again.

“I believe the reason why they have not taken place was because of our actions in tightening the security and improvement in our alertness level.

“Those are the factors for no KFR incidents occurring but at the same time we cannot be lax,” he said.

Acryl Sani said the waters off Sandakan, Lahad Datu and Semporna were still considered high risk areas due to their close location to neighbouring countries, adding that curfews would likely be maintained in these waters.

He also added that the police would still conduct patrols and have continued monitoring all areas in Sabah's east coast, including those not in the Restricted Movement Control Area.

The curfew, enforced under Section 31(4) of the Police Act 1967, was first implemented on July 16, 2014.

The curfew was enforced following a spate of kidnappings that also saw the beheading of Sarawakian Bernard Then and the killing of several others, including a policeman and tourists.

The Star reported last April that the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, however, was no longer capable of carrying out cross-border kidnappings in Sabah waters.

According to a regional source, this was because they are no longer organised and do not have foot soldiers familiar with Sabah’s east coast areas.

Besides that, they were also unable to keep their victims hostage in their hideouts in Jolo as the Philippines military continues to strike at their bases, causing them to be constantly on the run.


Philippine Military To Verify Reports About Senior Abu Sayyaf Leader’s Death

Posted to Eurasia Review News & Analysis (May 16, 2023): Philippine Military To Verify Reports About Senior Abu Sayyaf Leader’s Death (By Roel Pareño, BenarNews)

Philippine soldiers secure an area where they encountered members of Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization. Joint Task Force Sulu Handout

The Philippine military on Monday said it was verifying reports that the most senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, for whom Washington is offering a U.S. $1 million bounty, has died of natural causes.

Radullan Sahiron was among the militants who made the Abu Sayyaf a byword in international terrorism for helping carry out cross-border abductions, which on one occasion in the early 2000s included the murders of American citizens.

The police and military were also looking for confirmation after some residents from the far-southern Sulu Islands posted on their social media site that the one-armed Sahiron had died.

A Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS) official would not confirm or deny Sahiron’s death “unless there is an eyeball confirmation,” but said he had received similar reports. The official did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak about the matter.

The JTFS is a military anti-terror unit that was formed to address the Abu Sayyaf and terrorism- related problems in Sulu.

Little has been heard of Sahiron since 2017, when he was widely reported to be suffering from age-related illnesses.

A native of Sulu’s Patikul town, Sahiron was originally among the fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Sulu, according to military dossiers. He was later acknowledged to be among the original members of the Abu Sayyaf after the MNLF signed a peace treaty with the government in the 1990s.

Sahiron’s fierce command of militants on the battlefield aboard his white horse earned him the nickname, Commander Putol (one arm). His right arm was injured in the 1970s during a fight with Philippine security forces, and it was amputated above his elbow.

Officials say Sahiron was among a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits who in 2000 launched a daring cross-border raid at a diving resort in Sabah, Malaysia, and snatched 21 tourists – 10 Europeans, 9 Malaysians, and 2 Filipino resort employees.

The captives were taken by speedboat to Abu Sayyaf jungle camps in Sulu. The victims were freed in batches after almost half a year in captivity, after ransoms of millions of dollars were paid.

The following year, officials say, Sahiron was again involved in kidnappings initiated by another group of Abu Sayyaf fighters, who seized 17 tourists, including three U.S. citizens, from an upscale resort off Palawan. Two of the American hostages were later killed – one of them was beheaded.

It was his involvement in the kidnapping of American nationals that placed Sahiron on the U.S. most wanted criminals list with a bounty of $1 million, through the U.S. Reward for Justice Program.

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