Monday, June 5, 2023

A Strait Too Far: How a Deliberate Campaigning Approach in the Pacific can make Beijing Think Twice

 Posted to War on the Rocks (Jun 5, 2023): A Strait Too Far: How a Deliberate Campaigning Approach in the Pacific can make Beijing Think Twice (By BENJAMIN VAN HORRICK)

On March 1, Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks tweeted a clear message to the People’s Republic of China — don’t press your luck and attempt to cross the Taiwan Strait. The tweet’s timing was likely no accident. Leading Northeast Asia security analyst Ian Easton argues that March through May is one of two ideal windows of meteorological opportunity for cross-strait amphibious operations, with the other occurring in September and October. For the U.S. joint force, the spring campaigning season in the Indo-Pacific is thus essential for strengthening regional partnerships, increasing multinational lethality, and instilling doubt in Chinese leaders’ minds about whether they could successfully invade Taiwan.

The joint force’s current campaigning actions along the first island chain and just beyond are already deterring Beijing from attempting such an invasion. But these actions have yet to fully exploit the timing challenges that Beijing faces. U.S. planners have conducted an ever-increasing number of cross-strait invasion wargames. Inevitably, though, these focus predominately on capability scorecard comparisons, and incorporate the misleading assumption that China is “playing a home game” while the United States is “playing an away game.” As Easton explains, historic weather patterns in the Taiwan Strait change the equation. From June through August, and then again between November and February, the weather in the Taiwan Strait, specifically frequent monsoons, typhoons, and prohibitive sea-states, make amphibious operations extremely difficult. For Chinese Communist Party leaders, the result is that if they were to attempt an invasion over the summer or winter months, they would consistently encounter unforgiving seas, high winds, and frequent rain, if not torrential downpours.

All of this means that with the right preparations, Washington does not have to be playing an away game. Through increasing interoperability and testing new concepts in and around the first island chain, U.S. forces can secure and exploit their seven-thousand-mile head start in any future Taiwan scenario. Understanding the current scope of U.S. spring campaigning in the region helps convey why timing, weather, alliances, and locations matter more than just inventory scorecards. As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has made clear, “campaigning is not business as usual — it is the deliberate effort to synchronize the Department’s activities and investments to aggregate focus and resources to shift conditions in our favor.” Rethinking the joint force’s posture during the most favorable months for a cross-strait invasion can shift conditions in America’s favor even further.

I read Deputy Secretary Hicks’ tweet while supporting the Balikatan 2023 exercise as one of the lead planners on Task Force 76/3. Balikatan is one of numerous critically timed spring campaigning activities in the Indo-Pacific. Others include Iron Fist in Japan, Cobra Gold in Thailand, Ssang Yong in South Korea, and Salaknib, which, like Balikatan, occurs in the Philippines. These exercises include marines like myself, as well as other branches of the joint force and a number of U.S. allies and partners. Among the key lessons from Balikatan 2023 is that by developing, reinforcing, and strengthening a distributed joint force campaigning approach across the Indo-Pacific, Washington can better leverage pre-existing regional partnerships to deter a cross-strait invasion. During the spring and fall, the joint force demonstrates its ability to deploy in China’s primary, ground-launched conventional long-range weapons-engagement zone, while regional allies demonstrate their willingness to partner and train with U.S. forces.

By placing the force in a vital stretch of geography during these crucial seasons, Washington makes good on commitments in the region and imposes diplomatic and military costs on Beijing. Moving forward, U.S. planners can enhance these efforts with a few key steps. These include making the experimental Task Force 76/3 permanent, improving coordination between Marine expeditionary forces and naval fleets, and maturing stand-in forces in the Pacific.

Key Places at Key Times

In late February and early March, as I was working with colleagues from the Philippines to finish preparations for Balikatan 2023, we were just a small component of a much wider endeavor. At that time, U.S. forces were already operating alongside the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Luzon as part of Salaknib. American military personnel were simultaneously arrayed alongside additional allied and partnered forces in key locations such as Japan’s southwest islands and Thailand, as well as operating along the western approaches to the Strait of Malacca.

Figure 1: Joint force, allied, and partner campaigning activities during the spring in 2023.
Source: Littoral East Asia from China’s Perspective (Image credit: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments).

As the map above shows, America and its allies were active in considerable numbers along the entire first island chain. Approximately 5,500 sailors and marines from the USS America Amphibious Ready Group / 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit operated alongside Japanese Self-Defense Forces during Iron Fist. This exercise focused on enhanced maritime domain awareness, seizing key terrain, and employing a variety of aviation- and surface-delivered fire support capabilities. From 2006 to 2022, Iron Fist was executed in California, or around 7,000 miles further east. Holding Iron Fist 2023 less than 100 miles northeast of Taiwan during one of the two ideal time windows for a cross-strait invasion provides tangible evidence of a new defense strategy and sends a much stronger message to Beijing.

At the same time as Iron Fist, 6,000 additional American military personnel joined approximately 1,400 allied and partner forces for the 42nd iteration of Cobra Gold, taking place in Thailand and the waters surrounding the Strait of Malacca. Most of the U.S. forces participating in Cobra Gold were sailors and marines from the USS Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group / 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. As the “crown jewel” of the U.S.-Thai alliance, this exercise demonstrates far more utility than just crisis response. Throughout Cobra Gold, these forces executed a variety of missions, such as command-and-control exercises, humanitarian and disaster relief projects, and field training evolutions, all focused on enhancing interoperability and strengthening relationships. In doing so, they employed new anti-armor systems, deep insertion techniques, and the only expeditionary fifth-generation strike fighters operating in the entire Southeast Asia region. The exercise also incorporated South Korea’s amphibious capabilities, including the ROKS II Chul Bong landing ship tank. On the diplomatic front, American naval forces also welcomed liaison officers from Thailand and South Korea on board the USS Makin Island.

U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs operating off the USS Makin Island in the Gulf of Thailand during Cobra Gold 2023.

Upon Cobra Gold’s conclusion, the USS Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group’s three amphibious ships embarked with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and, along with multiple South Korean warships, sailed through the Strait of Malacca. While proceeding through the East China Sea, the ships linked up with the USS America, which had recently completed its participation in Iron Fist. The combined forces’ embarked sailors and marines executed multiple integrated skills proficiency operations, including employing F-35Bs that were initially embarked on the USS Makin Island from the USS America. After this demonstration, the majority of the ships proceeded to Busan, South Korea, to begin Ssang Yong, a multi-week allied exercise focused on enhancing interoperability and further strengthening relationships. This year’s exercise was much more comprehensive than in years past. For example, the United Kingdom’s 40 Commando Marines, joined by two Royal Navy patrol ships, operated alongside and fully integrated with their U.S. and South Korean marine counterparts. Together, these combined forces executed a series of complex and distributed amphibious operations from and between ships located off South Korea’s southeastern coast.

Immediately following Ssang Yong’s conclusion, approximately 5,400 Filipino personnel and 12,200 U.S. personnel proceeded to carry out the largest iteration of Balikatan in the exercise’s 38-year history. Exercise activities occurred throughout the majority of April. As with Ssang Yong, Cobra Gold, and Iron Fist, they focused on enhancing interoperability, improving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and strengthening allied relationships.

U.S. 3rd Littoral Combat Team marines secure a landing zone on the Philippines’ Basco Island during Balikatan 2023.

Coastal defense, perhaps more than any other mission set, figured prominently in Balikatan 2023. U.S. and Filipino infantry marines, including those from the new 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, executed live-fire attacks focused on ensuring that they could seize and defend key terrain. From this terrain, these and other U.S. and Filipino troops, including those from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, employed a variety of intelligence-collection assets, all focused on enhancing maritime domain awareness to inform combined force intelligence-fires fusion cells.

Finally, a variety of U.S. and Filipino units, including the U.S. Army’s 1st Multi-Domain Task Force and a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 detachment, participated in a culminating “SINKEX,” something that had not been part of Balikatan before. This involved destroying a vessel at sea that had violated the Philippines’ sovereignty, observed by President Ferdinand Marcos, the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, and numerous other senior U.S. and Filipino government officials. Notably, shortly after observing the exercise, Marcos flew to the United States, where he met at the White House with President Joe Biden, and at the Department of Defense with Secretary Austin. During these meetings, the leaders discussed the importance of the nations’ strategic alliance, including Marcos’ recent decision to increase from five to nine the number of approved Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement locations in the Philippines that American forces can access.

As the spring campaigning season comes to its conclusion, the joint force is already well into preparing for this fall, during the other key meteorological window. While the details of these campaigning actions have not been released publicly yet, they are sure to build on relatively new activities across the Indo-Pacific region’s key maritime terrain executed in the fall of 2022, such as Kamandang in the Philippines and Resolute Dragon in Japan. Last September and October, marines and sailors from the 3rd Marine Division and the USS Tripoli Amphibious Ready Group / 31st Marine Executionary Unit, alongside Japanese and Filipino troops, operated throughout Japan’s southwest islands and across the Philippines, including in key maritime terrain located in the middle of the Luzon Strait. These campaigning activities also incorporated for the first time a new U.S. Marine Corps formation, Marine Rotational Force-Southeast Asia. This formation was designed specifically to meet the National Defense Strategy’s campaigning intent and demonstrated its ability to do so during a critical time window in key locations astride the Strait of Malacca, such as Singapore and Indonesia.

Room to Improve

To capitalize on the success of this spring and last fall’s initial campaigning achievements, future exercises need more than just a task and purpose conceptualized during a planning conference, which is still too often how they begin. Instead, Department of Defense officials should develop careful and deliberate linkages to an overall joint force campaign approach. Each exercise should build upon its earlier iterations to increase lethality and build diplomatic pressure. Several specific changes could enhance the deterrent value generated by U.S. forces during key periods in the year. With the seven-thousand-mile head start in mind, a deliberate and carefully coordinated campaign of exercises and operations planning will send a message to Beijing: not today, not ever.

The first recommendation focuses on the force that I’m grateful to serve as a planner for, Task Force 76/3, which was originally designed as an experimental concept sourced out of III Marine Expeditionary Force and Expeditionary Strike Group 7 / Commander Task Force 76. The naval services should now codify a permanent naval-integrated command to guide, direct, and coordinate maritime campaigning in the Indo-Pacific — the priority theater. This would be similar to the maturation of Task Force 51/5 over the last decade as a combined Navy-Marine Corps staff that is subordinated to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and executes command and control of Amphibious Ready Groups / Marine Expeditionary Units when operating in U.S. Central Command.

Task Force 76/3 should become a permanent integrated blue-green staff subordinated to the Seventh Fleet and responsible for orchestrating the campaigning of the USS America Amphibious Ready Group / 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based out of Japan, as well as all California-based Amphibious Ready Groups / Marine Expeditionary Units sourced by Third Fleet and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Given the theater and the presence of allies and partners, Task Force 76/3 should also become joint, combined, and partnered, with liaison officers integrated from the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Second, the three-star-led Marine expeditionary forces and naval fleets should better synchronize their efforts through deliberate collaboration. Much of the success of the 2023 spring exercises resulted from efforts of formations such as 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force. But while these forces participated in some of the same exercises with the same goals, they were not coordinated to meet Austin’s intent for synchronization.

For the Marine Corps to achieve its campaigning potential in the Indo-Pacific, the service will have to do everything possible to enhance close coordination, including between its two three-star formations whose headquarters are located thousands of miles apart. These formations should draw closer together, embedding liaisons within staffs and preparing combined planning objectives and operations centers — while simultaneously forging ever-closer relationships with the Third and Seventh Fleets. Consider as just one example what this recommendation could look like for the California-based Amphibious Ready Groups / Marine Expeditionary Units. These are currently manned, trained, equipped, and certified by Third Fleet and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force respectively, and then consistently deploy to the Western Pacific, where they fall under the operational control of Seventh Fleet. If the first recommendation is implemented, they would fall under a permanently naval-integrated Task Force 76/3 and have their entire force generation and deployment model informed from the outset by campaigning plans developed more than a year beforehand.

Third, the Marine Corps should seek to capitalize on recent U.S. diplomatic gains in the Pacific by codifying and maturing stand-in forces, or what some colloquially refer to as rotational forces. Marine Rotational Force-Darwin is a known model, deploying marine units to Darwin, Australia to partner with a critical ally and build robust operational capabilities. Initiated during the late 2000s as part of the “Pivot to the Pacific,” Marine Rotational Force-Darwin subsequently took a decade to mature. In the past year, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s initial employment of Marine Rotational Force-Southeast Asia builds on a similar model and shows its promise as an evolving program. This could include increasing deliberately timed deployments to the Philippines, where it could help to enable the recently announced Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement sites. These would not need to be heel-to-toe, year-round deployments, but rather linked to the specific cross-strait vulnerability windows.

To implement this recommendation, the Defense Department would need considerable assistance from other branches of the U.S. government to secure certain key prerequisites. These include multi-option mobility platforms, diplomatic permissions to transport and share munitions, and partner agreements to welcome stand-in forces in ports across the Indo-Pacific. Rather than leave things to chance and personal initiative, the Navy and Marine Corps should codify the establishment of formations such as Task Force 76/3 to conceive, direct, and execute campaigning in the Pacific.

Maximizing Momentum and Opportunities to Deter

While the most recent fall and spring campaigning efforts involved many noteworthy successes, the joint force needs to do more and in short order. As Indo-Pacific Commander Adm. John C. Aquillino recently stated, when it comes to deterring Beijing, “everything needs to go faster.” Doing so requires the joint force to first focus on the inherent natural obstacles, both from the sky and the sea, standing between China and Taiwan. Next, the joint force should double down on the historic, nascent, and proposed efforts described above. Washington cannot afford to keep planning and executing these exercises in isolation. Rather they should be one seamless and collective joint and allied campaign ruthlessly conveying the message to Beijing: not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

[Benjamin Van Horrick is a Marine Corps logistics officer. He is the current logistics operations officer for Task Force 76/3. The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, or the Department of Defense.]

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sarah Myers

China’s strong-arming won’t work in Marcos’ Philippines

From East Asia Forum (Jun 6, 2023): China’s strong-arming won’t work in Marcos’ Philippines (Jenny Balboa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and Hosei University, and Shinji Takenaka, Japan Center for Economic Research)

Despite careful words from Philippine officials, the latest US–Philippines Balikatan military exercise was a response to China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. China’s provocations had become indiscriminate — targeting both uniformed Filipino personnel and small-scale fisherfolk in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. China’s aggressive actions had become bolder, making it more difficult to turn a blind eye to the situation.

The 38th Balikatan exercise in April 2023 was the biggest in the three-decade history of their joint combat drills. The exercise did not sit well with Beijing, which immediately released a warning that such activities can aggravate tension in the area. The Chinese ambassador to the Philippines issued an upfront reproach to the Philippine government about China’s displeasure of such ‘provocative’ activities.

The United States and the Philippines promptly conducted the third 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue on 11 April 2023 in Washington. Top US–Philippines foreign affairs and defence officials issued clear-cut statements about the South China Sea conflict. The joint statement condemned China’s illegal activities and called for compliance with the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration decision, which rejected Beijing’s claims on territory and maritime rights based on its ‘nine-dash line’. The statement also reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the Philippines seems to have turned its back on the China appeasement strategy that characterised the foreign policy of his predecessor. Former president Rodrigo Duterte moved the Philippines closer to China by downplaying the Arbitral Tribunal award favouring the Philippines. In retrospect, Duterte provided China with ample space to construct a closer and mutually beneficial relationship with the Philippines.

Yet Beijing continued to conduct aggressive actions in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone targeting the Philippine military and fisherfolk who are more disadvantaged. There was a clear mismatch between Beijing’s words and actions. It did not help that China reneged on many of its economic commitments to Manila. Beijing failed to fulfil its pledged investment in several big-ticket infrastructure projects.

As a dominant state that wields considerable influence in the economy and security of many countries, China seems to have assumed that vulnerable states, such as the Philippines, would tolerate its belligerent actions. China had lost sight that the Philippines — like many ASEAN countries — is a post-colonial state, sensitive to the raw ambition of superpowers to dominate and bend them against their will. Beijing overlooked the determination of many domestic actors in these countries to defend their national interest.

The country’s territorial integrity is now under threat from a hegemonic China. Given the Philippine military’s inability to defend the country against a preponderant China, the Philippines moved closer to the United States, which provides the training and capacity to protect its territory.

The Philippines’ is also vital to US interests because it is a treaty ally that occupies a critical position in the US defence perimeter in Asia — the US alliance architecture which runs from East Asia to the South China Sea and the Western Pacific. During their meeting on 1 May, US President Joe Biden assured Marcos Jr that: ‘The United States remains ironclad in [its] commitment to the defence of the Philippines, including the South China Sea’.

A stronger Philippines–US alliance has complicated the cost for China to challenge the Philippines over territorial issues. Given the US military’s sophisticated weapons, equipment, and combat training, it is fully capable of deterring China’s advance in the South China Sea. The enlarged presence of the US military in the northern Philippines can also reinforce more dynamic and collaborative operations in case China attempts to forcefully unify Taiwan with the mainland.

The way China treated the Philippines in the 2010s showed Beijing’s overconfidence as a new global power. During the term of former president Benigno Aquino Jr — when the Philippines filed a case against China in 2013 at the Hague — China refused to participate in the three-year trial. Instead, Beijing continued to flex through military drills and issuing trade sanctions to the Philippines. Beijing lost a critical opportunity to prove that it respects the rule of law. During Duterte’s presidential term, Beijing wasted the chance to establish that it is a credible and benign great power to its neighbours.

Beijing left Manila with little choice but to take the next best approach, which was to strengthen its alliance with the United States to balance the China threat. This is not to say that the China–Philippines relationship is hopeless. China can take the time to review its foreign policy and learn from the unexpected consequences of its actions. The strong-arm policy that Beijing used on Manila only aggravates tensions and has proven to be unsustainable in the context of great power competition for influence in Asia.

But Manila can take advantage of warmer US–Philippines ties to address critical issues beyond the security realm. The Philippines can join like-minded countries to address its vulnerabilities — including Chinese trade dependence and other economic security and resilience issues.

[Jenny Balboa is a Lecturer at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and at the Department of Global and Interdisciplinary Studies, Hosei University.

Shinji Takenaka is a Senior Economist at the Japan Center for Economic Research.]

Terrorist-linked drug den operators arrested in Lanao del Sur

Posted to Business World (Jun 5, 2023): Terrorist-linked drug den operators arrested in Lanao del Sur


ANTI-NARCOTICS agents arrested five alleged drug den operators who were reportedly providing funds to local terrorist group Dawlah Islamiya in an entrapment operation Saturday in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)-Bangsamoro Region Director Christian O. Frivaldo on Monday said the suspects were caught in with the help of local officials and units of the Lanao del Sur Provincial Police Office.

Local executives have confirmed that the suspects jointly operated a clandestine drug den in Sitio Bangon in Barangay Pagalamatan.

Senior members of different municipal peace and order councils in Lanao del Sur, among them public school officials, told reporters Monday the five men shared proceeds of their earnings from peddling methamphetamine or shabu to the Dawlah Islamiya, a local terrorist group led by religious extremists fomenting hatred for non-Muslims.

Mr. Frivaldo said the suspects were immediately detained after selling P442,000 worth of shabu to non-uniformed PDEA agents and policemen.

PDEA agents in the Bangsamoro also confiscated fragmentation grenade and a .38 caliber revolver from the suspects. — John M. Unson

Army neutralizes 40 NPA in Visayas in May

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 5, 2023): Army neutralizes 40 NPA in Visayas in May (By TARA YAP)

ILOILO CITY – The Philippine Army neutralized 40 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels across the Visayas in May.

WAR materiel seized by the Philippine Army from NPA rebels in the Visayas. (Viscom)

A report released by the Visayas Command led by Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo said the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) sustained 17 casualties while 23 others surrendered.

During the course of the month, the Army seized 54 firearms in Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Eastern Visayas.

A total of 38 guns were recovered during encounters while seven were discovered through information provided by former rebels. Another nine firearms were voluntarily surrendered.

Arevalo said there is no letup in their campaign against the NPA.

“The CPP-NPA in the Visayas region has been substantially weakened, having incurred devastating losses in their manpower and armed capability and the collapse of their support system from the community. Hence, our focused military operations will go on,” said Arevalo.

A total of 562 communist sympathizers in Visayas withdrew their support to the NPA and pledged their allegiance to the government.

Four communist guerrillas were killed in the most recent encounter with the military on May 28. A former student leader was among those killed in that gunbattle in Catarman, Northern Samar.

NPA rebels yield in Cagayan

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 5, 2023): 21 NPA rebels yield in Cagayan (By FREDDIE LAZARO)

CAMP MELCHOR F. DELA CRUZ, Isabela – Twenty-one members of the New People’s Army (NPA), including three students from Metro Manila, surrendered to the military in Cagayan on Friday, June 2.

TWENTY-one New People's Army rebels surrendered in Cagayan on Friday, June 2. They yielded a total of 23 high-powered firearms. (Army FB)

The surrenderers from the Komiteng Rehiyon Cagayan Valley were presented by the Army 5th Infantry Division to the Provincial Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict led by Gov. Manuel N. Mamba at the sub-capitol in Lal-lo, Cagayan.

Major Gen. Audrey L. Pasia, Army 5th Infantry Division chief, said they recovered a total of 30 high-powered firearms from the NPA.

Twenty-three of these were from the 21 surrenderers while five were recovered in Sitio Warawad, Barangay Cumao, Gattaran, Cagayan through information provided by three surrenderers.

The two other guns were surrendered by the Milisyang Bayan (MB) members from Barangay Villa Cielo, Buguey, Cagayan.

Pasia said they expect more NPA to return to the fold of the law in the coming days.

“We are expecting more surrenderers and recovery of more high-powered firearms in the future after this mass abandonment of CPP-NPA members under Komiteng Rehiyon Cagayan Valley,” Pasia said.

Of the 21 surrenderers, eight were members of the East Front Committee, Komiteng Probinsya Cagayan; seven from the North Front Committee, Komiteng Probinsya Cagayan, and six were members of the Komiteng Probinsya Isabela.

Among the notable surrenderers were former Polytechnic University of the Philippines-Manila student Michael Cedric Casano, alias “Henry,” secretary of the East Front Committee, former University of the Philippines-Diliman student Patricia Nicole Cuerva, alias “Maya,” Casano’s wife and a political guide of the committee, and former Dela Salle student Orion Mervin Mallari Yoshida, alias “Brown,” leader of the Komiteng Probinsya Isabela.

Pasia thanked Mamba for accepting and providing the temporary halfway house for surrenderers.

Mamba vowed to provide them with livelihood training and employment and said that the Army and the Department of the Interior and Local Government are processing their benefits from the Enhanced Comprehensive Livelihood Integration Program for rebel returnees.

Pasia said that this mass abandonment and the recovery of various firearms are the results of the collaborative efforts of various government agencies.

He reiterated his call to remnants of NPA groups in Cagayan Valley region to surrender and enjoy a peaceful life.

PH Navy task group concludes 'equator crossing' rites

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 5, 2023): PH Navy task group concludes 'equator crossing' rites (By Priam Nepomuceno)

(Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy)

MANILA – Some 23 officers and 103 enlisted personnel of the Naval Task Group (NTG) 80.5, aboard the offshore patrol vessel BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17), successfully underwent seamen's traditional rites of "Crossing the Equator” last June 2 while enroute to Indonesia to participate in this year's "Komodo" naval exercises.

Lt. Jonathan Carretas, NTG 80.5 public affairs office chief, said the ceremony took place when the contingent passed by the equator at "LAT 00 DEGS 00.000 MINS LONG 118 DEGS 46.603 MINS E".

"(The ship was) enroute to Makassar, Indonesia to participate (in) the 4th Multilateral Naval Exercise 'Komodo' (MNEK). This treasured naval tradition features King Neptune with the members of his Royal Family putting into test all the pollywogs, who wish to pass the equator for the first time, into his court," he said in a statement Sunday.

"Komodo" is a military exercise by the Indonesian Navy and annually held between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

The first iteration of the naval exercise took place in 2014 in Indonesia's Batam City.

The BRP Andres Bonifacio left Naval Operating Base Subic last May 29 to participate in "Komodo" which will run from June 4 to 8.

Carretas said numerous fun-filled activities awaited these newcomers that eventually made them earn the right to be called “shellbacks” and be recognized as the sons and daughters of the sea.

"In this crossing the equator rite, the pollywogs faced several challenging tasks that tested their resourcefulness, determination, team work, and innovativeness in order to entertain the master shellbacks onboard for them to earn their place to King Neptune’s court," he added.

Carretas said the whole activity was conducted under the supervision of Fleet Marine Ready Force chief of staff Captain Arnold C. Barcelon and BRP Andres Bonifacio commanding officer Commander Paul Michael P. Hechanova.

"The ceremony concluded with the awarding of shellback certificate and a simple boodle fight to celebrate the culmination of the bonding activity that serves as another milestone to each member of the NTG 80.5 contingent’s life at sea," he added.

Peaceful Asia Pacific entails rule of law, dialogue - Galvez

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 5, 2023): Peaceful Asia Pacific entails rule of law, dialogue - Galvez (By Priam Nepomuceno)

DND chief Carlito Galvez Jr. (Photo courtesy of DND)

MANILA – To maintain peace in the Asia Pacific region, Department of National Defense (DND) chief Carlito Galvez Jr. said the rule of law must be upheld along with the continued pursuit of dialogue and multilateralism.

He made this comment during the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) held in Singapore from June 2 to 4.

"In his statement, Senior Undersecretary Galvez underscored two significant points to uphold the long peace and stability in the region amid increasing strains on the security environment: first is upholding the primacy of the rule-of-law; and second, the continued pursuit of dialogue and multilateralism," DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement late Sunday.

In this year's SLD, Galvez joined United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace and Canada Minister of National Defense Anita Anand in leading the discussions on the topic “Building a Stable and Balanced Asia-Pacific”.

"Senior Undersecretary Galvez emphasized the role of international law as the greatest equalizer among states, recalling that it is exactly this belief that made the Philippines confidently resort to the compulsory dispute settlement mechanism of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and The Hague Tribunal," Andolong said.

The SLD is dubbed as “Asia’s premier defense summit” and is an annual gathering of defense ministers, senior military officials, diplomats and security experts and practitioners, which ushers significant debates on the region’s most pressing security issues and important talks to generate fresh approaches together.

"Relatedly, he (Galvez) encouraged all parties who subscribe to the rule-of-law to express support for the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration Award and what it stands for as it is ultimately this support that will preserve the global order at sea and uphold the universally recognized principles of international law," Andolong stressed.

He also said the DND chief emphasized the importance of multilateralism in fostering the political will and mutual trust needed for constructive dialogue and reaching an agreement to abide by a shared system of norms and values.

Andolong said Galvez's statement reaffirms that multilateralism remains as an effective strategy for modernizing collective defense, deterring aggression, and maintaining peace and prosperity -- a strategy that can create a strong message that the Philippines is not alone in shedding light on the situation in the South China Sea.

"Senior Undersecretary Galvez likewise accentuated ASEAN as a remarkable example that multilateralism works even in a region as diverse as the Asia-Pacific, highlighting its ability to offer a neutral ground for tabling various interests based on an equitable treatment of norms and principles. It is in this context that he also called for a substantive ASEAN-China Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) that is negotiated through a process that perseveres despite the pressures of destabilizing actions," Andolong pointed out.

Galvez also reiterated the Philippines’ commitment to diplomacy and dialogue to build the aggregated resilience of the region as a whole.

The DND chief also met with his counterparts from Singapore, Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Sweden and the US on the sidelines of the SLD.

PH, Sweden sign MOU on defense materiel cooperation

As this developed, Galvez and Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Concerning Cooperation in the Acquisition of Defense Materiel last June 3.

Andolong said the MOU signing is a highlight of Galvez and Jonson's first meeting at the SLD.

"The signed agreement paves the way for advancing cooperation in the areas of logistics, defense industry development, and exchange of related information between the two countries. The agreement opens up opportunities for Swedish defense industries to participate in the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program (AFPMP) as well as for possible joint initiatives in support of the Philippines’ thrust to achieve a Self-Reliant Defense Posture," he added.

The two officials also welcomed progress of Philippines - Sweden bilateral defense relations which was demonstrated by the exchange of visits to Manila and Stockholm by defense, military and foreign affairs delegations in recent months.

"They also exchanged views on current security issues in the Indo-Pacific region and in Europe, as well as ways ahead for cooperation towards a more secure security environment," Andolong noted.

PH, Singapore sign HADR agreement

On June 2, the defense establishment of the Philippines and Singapore signed the Arrangement concerning Education, Training Assistance and Support Activities on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) at the sidelines of the 20th SLD.

The arrangement enables both the AFP and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to enhance capacities on HADR in efficiently addressing impacts of natural and manmade disasters in its aftermath.

Andolong said this is also among the priority agreements of the Philippines with Singapore following the state visit to Singapore of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. last September 2022.

The Arrangement was signed by Assistant Secretary for Strategic Assessments and International Affairs Pablo M. Lorenzo from the DND and Brig. Gen. Kelvin Fan, Deputy Secretary (Policy) from the Ministry of Defence of Singapore. The signing ceremony was also witnessed by Galvez and Minister of Defense Singapore, Dr. Ng Eng Hen.

"Before the signing of the Arrangement, Senior Undersecretary Galvez met Minister Ng for a courtesy call wherein the two top officials underscored the positive momentum of bilateral defense cooperation, and exchanged views on recent security developments in the region," Andolong pointed out.

PH Navy contingent now in Indonesia for 'Komodo' drills

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 5, 2023): PH Navy contingent now in Indonesia for 'Komodo' drills (By Priam Nepomuceno)

(Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy)

MANILA – The Philippine Navy's (PN) offshore patrol vessel, BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17), and Naval Task Group 80.5 have arrived in Makassar, Indonesia on Sunday to take part in this year's "Komodo" naval exercises.

In a statement Monday, Lt. Jonathan Carretas said BRP Andres Bonifacio is the first foreign warship to arrive for Komodo which is scheduled for June 4 to 8.

"BRP Andres Bonifacio, skippered by Commander Paul Michael P. Hechanova, crossed the equator safely to Makassar, Indonesia—the first foreign participating warship to arrive for the Multilateral Naval Exercise Komodo (MNEK) 2023," he added.

Some 193 PN personnel were deployed to take part in the "Komodo" drills.

Carretas said 32 countries will be participating in the MNEK which officially kicked off Sunday in Makassar City, South Sulawesi.

An International Fleet Review is also scheduled on Monday and will be headed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Hatta Pier, Makassar City.

"Moreover, various activities are also lined up during the MNEK such as bilateral meetings, international maritime security symposium, engineering civic action program, medical civic action program, and other entertainment activities that will culminate on 08 June 2023 with a sea phase exercise," Carretas said.

He added "Komodo" emphasized military operations other than war with navies responding to natural disasters, humanitarian assistance, and maritime threats.

"The exercise theme is 'Partnership to Recover and To Rise Stronger' to promote the spirit of collective awakening from the Covid-19 pandemic and increase friendship among countries for a better future," Carretas said.

"Komodo" is a military exercise by the Indonesian Navy and annually held between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

The first iteration of the naval exercise took place in 2014 in Indonesia's Batam City.

The BRP Andres Bonifacio left Naval Operating Base Subic last May 29 to participate in "Komodo".

Galvez thanks PBBM for chance to lead DND

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 6, 2023): Galvez thanks PBBM for chance to lead DND (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Outgoing DND officer-in-charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. (File photo)

MANILA – Outgoing Department of National Defense (DND) officer-in-charge Senior Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. on Tuesday thanked President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. for giving him the opportunity to lead the agency even just for a few months.

This came after Marcos named lawyer Gilberto "Gibo" Teodoro Jr. as the country's new Defense Secretary on Monday.

"I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the President and Commander-in-Chief, His Excellency Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., for entrusting me to lead the Department over the last few months. I also thank the entire One Defense Team, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and our civilian bureaus, for their support during my tenure as the officer-in-charge of the Department," Galvez said.

Galvez was named DND officer-in-charge last Jan. 9 following the resignation of his predecessor, retired AFP chief Gen. Jose Faustino Jr. earlier that month.

Galvez is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1985 and served as the 50th AFP chief from April 18 to December 11, 2018.

"The DND welcomes the appointment of Atty. Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. as the new Secretary of National Defense," Galvez said.

Teodoro also served as DND chief from August 2007 to November 2009 in the administration of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He was also the former congressman of Tarlac (1st District).

Teodoro also served as the chairperson of the National Disaster Coordinating Council during his tenure as DND chief. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce, majoring in Financial Institutions from the De La Salle University-Manila.

Teodoro completed his law degree, graduated at the top of his class at the University of the Philippines, and was the topnotcher in the 1989 Philippine Bar Examinations.

Teodoro also has a Master's Degree in Law from Harvard University and is a licensed commercial pilot.

He was recognized as a Leadership Awardee and Seminar Academic Excellence Awardee during his time at the Air Command and Staff College, Air Education and Training Command Philippine Air Force Command and Staff Course in 2001.

In 2003, he attended the Joint and Combined Staff Officers Course, Class No. 1, JCSC in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City where he was honored as a Leadership Awardee.

"We have achieved great strides in our priority programs on internal security, territorial defense, disaster preparedness, and the continued development of the defense organization. Rest assured that the DND has my unequivocal support as we all work together in the pursuit of our vision of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Philippines," Galvez added.

Army condemns NPA’s use of banned mines that killed 2 in N. Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 5, 2023): Army condemns NPA’s use of banned mines that killed 2 in N. Samar (By Sarwell Meniano)

EXPLOSION. The victims of roadside blast in Las, Navas, Northern Samar in this June 3, 2023 photo. Military and local government officials have strongly condemned the New People’s Army (NPA) for detonating anti-personnel mines that killed two civilians in Las Navas town. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Army)

TACLOBAN CITY – Military and local government officials have strongly condemned the New People’s Army (NPA) for detonating anti-personnel mines that killed two civilians in Las Navas, Northern Samar on June 3.

Maj. Gen. Camilo Ligayo said in a statement on Monday that this terroristic act that cost the lives of innocent civilians should be stopped.

“The NPA blatantly disregards human rights, which is evident in their continued use of banned weapons. The use of indiscriminate weapons increases the chance of jeopardizing the lives of innocent non-combatants,” Ligayo said.

Roel Lebico and Jerson Cabe, residents of Quirino village in Las Navas town, were onboard a motorcycle and heading home late Saturday when NPA members donated their mines planted on the roadside. The two were workers on the ongoing farm-to-market road leading to remote communities.

Aside from blast injuries, the victims also sustained multiple gunshot wounds after the rebels “ruthlessly fired rounds against them.”

Lt. Col. Joemar Buban, commander of the Philippine Army’s 20th Infantry Battalion, said the terrorist attack is a clear violation of the Ottawa Convention (Mine Ban Treaty), which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.

“The use of this banned explosive that killed two civilians on June 3 and numerous innocent individuals in the past is a matter of procedure for these terrorists who are bent on inflicting death and damages to lives and properties,” Buban added.

The official has called on the Commission of Human Rights to investigate and make a statement on these continuous inexcusable violations of NPA on the Ottawa Convention; International Humanitarian Law; and Republic Act 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.

The local government unit of Las Navas town created a fact-finding team to gather information and evidence for the filing of charges against the perpetrators and the leadership of NPA on the killings of Lebico and Cabe.