Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Former Maguindanao Sur vice mayor, dad killed in ambush

From MindaNews (Jul 12, 2023): Former Maguindanao Sur vice mayor, dad killed in ambush (By FERDINANDH B. CABRERA)

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 13 July)—A former lady vice mayor of Maguindanao del Sur died on the spot in an ambush in Sultan Kudarat province on Tuesday while her wounded father later expired in a hospital, belated reports said.

Sittie Jinn Utto Lumenda, former vice mayor of Rajah Buayan, Maguindanao del Sur. From the Facebook page of Sittie Jinn Utto Lumenda

Major Jethro Doligas, chief of police of Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat, identified the victims as Sittie Jinn Utto Lumenda, former vice mayor of the municipality of Rajah Buayan, and her father, Datu Jonathan Lumenda.

Doligas said over radio DXMY Cotabato City that the former vice mayor, known as “Ate Kamahalan,” was driving the family-owned Toyota pickup truck when gunmen fired from the left side of the road around 1 p.m. Tuesday in Barangay Pinguiaman in Lambayong.

She died instantly after two bullets hit her left face while her father, who was sitting beside her in the passenger seat, was wounded but later died in the hospital due to severe gunshot wounds, police said.

Doligas said that initial investigation suggests that two or three persons could have staged the ambush.

“The suspects might have followed the victims or they could have waited in the crime scene,” he said.

Investigation is still ongoing while the motive has not yet been established. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)

The Lumendas’ pickup truck after the ambush. Photo from the Facebook account of Jada MT

Philippines ‘deeply concerned’ about Chinese activity in South China Sea

Posted to the Mindanao Examiner (Jul 12, 2023): Philippines ‘deeply concerned’ about Chinese activity in South China Sea

CHINA’S REPORTED harassment of the Philippine coast guard near contested territory in the South China Sea is “irresponsible,” the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines said.

Several Chinese coast guard vessels attempted on June 30 to prevent two Philippine patrol ships from reaching Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands, Philippine coast guard spokesman Jay Tarriela tweeted.

Philippine coast guard photos show the Chinese coast guard harassing the Filipino vessel.

In response, Ambassador MaryKay Carlson called on Beijing to comply with a 2016 ruling that rejected its claim on the shoal. “We are concerned by the unprofessional maneuvers of the China Coast Guard against the Philippines Coast Guard,” she tweeted. [China’s] irresponsible behavior in the South China Sea threatens the security and legal rights of our treaty ally, the Philippines.”

The Permanent Court of Arbitration – an intergovernmental organization that facilitates dispute resolution between countries – ruled in 2016 that Second Thomas Shoal is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and exempt from China’s claims.

Beijing, however, continues to assert that it’s entitled to the shoal 128 miles northwest of Palawan and 875 miles southeast of Hong Kong. It said the Philippine vessels intruded “without Chinese permission” into waters around the shoal, known in China as Ren’ai Reef.

“In accordance with the law, the Chinese Coast Guard vessel carried out law enforcement activities to uphold China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime order,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a news conference. “The Chinese side’s maneuvers were professional and restrained.”

The Spratlys, a group of about 100 islands between Vietnam and the Philippines, are claimed in full by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. Portions are also claimed by the Philippines and Malaysia. About 45 islands are occupied by small contingents of military forces from all five countries, according to the CIA’s World Factbook website.

Second Thomas Shoal is one of nine features occupied by the Philippine military, and in recent months has become a contentious landmark as Manila and Beijing grapple over it.

The Philippines in February accused China of temporarily blinding crew members on a coast guard vessel with a “military-grade” laser during a resupply mission near Second Thomas Shoal; in April, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel blocked a Philippine patrol ship near the shoal.

Chinese vessels appear to be “exerting additional effort” to prevent ships from reaching the shoal, Tarriela, the Philippines’ coast guard spokesman, said in his tweet. Two additional Chinese navy warships were also sighted in the area, a report Tarriela called “particularly alarming” because the Philippine vessels were on a humanitarian mission to escort boats safely.

“Despite this, the Chinese have deployed their warships, raising even greater concerns,” he said, adding that the mission was successful. (Alex Wilson / Stars and Stripes)

PH launches microsite on 2016 SCS arbitral award

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 12, 2023): PH launches microsite on 2016 SCS arbitral award (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

(Screengrab from DFA microsite)

MANILA – The Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), on Wednesday launched a microsite that will serve as a central resource for official information and the country’s position on the 2016 Arbitration Award.

The DFA said the website is a partial fulfillment of its commitment to promote a better understanding of the decision as a Philippine contribution to the peaceful settlement of disputes through international law.

Manila marks on July 12 the seventh anniversary of the landmark decision, which upheld the country’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said the ruling is a significant contribution to international law and the interpretation and application of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“The Award conclusively settled the issue of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea,” he said. “Claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction beyond the geographic and substantive limits of UNCLOS-provided maritime entitlements are without legal effect.”

Last year, Manalo reaffirmed that the 2016 award serves as one of the "twin anchors" of Manila’s policy and actions over the West Philippine Sea.

The microsite, managed by the DFA Foreign Service Institute, will provide links to resources, including the material submitted to the Tribunal and made available by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a collection of DFA statements on the South China Sea Arbitration, starting with the statement made by the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on January 22, 2013, when he announced the decision to pursue the “UNCLOS Arbitral Proceedings against China to achieve a peaceful and durable solution to the dispute in the West Philippine Sea.”

The site also features an explainer on the legal and geographic scope of the West Philippine Sea.

“We understand that the issue is complex and may be confusing, so this is an attempt to clear some of the fog. It is a work-in-progress site, but I feel it is an important start to gaining a better understanding of the complex issues faced by the Philippines in the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea,” DFA Assistant Secretary Maria Angela Ponce said.

The DFA prepared and secured the materials through the support of the Presidential Communications Office and the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority.

The site may be accessed through the link

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 12, 2023): 8 out of 10 Filipinos favor alliances to defend WPS( By Priam Nepomuceno)

(File photo courtesy of PCG)

MANILA – A Pulse Asia survey commissioned by international think tank Stratbase ADRI Institute showed eight out of 10 Filipinos agreed that the Philippines should form alliances and strengthen its relationships with like-minded countries to defend its territorial and economic rights in the West Philippine Sea.

The polling firm released the survey results in Wednesday's forum titled “The 7th Year of the Arbitral Victory: Defending the West Philippine Sea, the Indo-Pacific, and the Rules-Based Order” organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute.

Pulse Asia conducted the survey from June 19-23, 2023 and asked 1,200 Filipinos nationwide whether or not they agree with the statement: “Alliances should be formed and relationships strengthened with other countries that have similar beliefs to the Philippines to defend the territorial and economic rights of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea and protect international order.”

A total of 80 percent of the people surveyed said they agree, while 17 percent said they are undecided.

Also, when asked to identify measures the Marcos administration should prioritize to effectively address issues in the West Philippine Sea, 7 out of 10 Filipinos, or 72 percent said that the government should strengthen the military capability of the Philippines, especially the Navy, Coast Guard and the Air Force.

Meanwhile, 64 percent said the government should conduct joint maritime patrols and military exercises with allied countries, and 61 percent said the government should shift the focus of Philippine defense institutions, and allocate more resources to strengthen the ability to defend the country from external threats.

In his speech during the forum, Stratbase president Dindo Manhit emphasized the importance of building and strengthening the Philippines’ alliances with like-minded countries in defending the West Philippine Sea.

“We are here today marking the anniversary of our victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, but the real test is for us to continue in the struggle to actualize this victory… We are happy to have our friends here with us today from Australia, United States, Japan, European Union, France, United Kingdom, and India. We are thankful for everything we have done together, and we look forward to future areas of collaboration as we deal with traditional, non-traditional, and evolving threats on various fronts,” Manhit said.

“The decision of the arbitral court assures us that we are on the right side of history and provides a solid foundation for our acts. The challenge for us moving forward is how we can build on this foundation. We must commit that we will never allow this victory to be diminished and trampled on. We at Stratbase ADR Institute support all forms of cooperation with countries who share our ideals, values, and reverence for a rules-based order,” he explained.

Among those who participated in the forum was Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Hae Kyong Yu PSM, United States Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko, Delegation of the European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Veron, French Ambassador to the Philippines Michele Boccoz, British Ambassador to the Philippines Laure Beaufils and Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Shambhu Kumaran.

In a Pulse Asia survey that was conducted in June last year, 89 percent of Filipinos said they trust the United States, 79 percent trust Australia, 78 percent trust Japan and 64 percent trust the United Kingdom.

“Defending our territory, asserting our sovereignty, and committing to uphold a rules-based international order in this dynamic, multipolar world is the right thing to do. It is the only thing to do. Together, let us defend the peace and stability of the West Philippine Sea, the Indo-Pacific, and the rules-based international order,” Manhit said.

He also highlighted the need for a Philippine Strategic Initiative, which will explore the interplay between geopolitics and geoeconomics development, and focuses on cross-sectoral concerns revolving around the global economy, security, governance, energy, and environment.

“This initiative will bridge the gap between geopolitics and economic development and highlight the importance of shared democratic values and a rules-based order in a multipolar world,” Manhit said.

OPAPRU: Marcos admin committed to sustaining 'peace gains'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 12, 2023): OPAPRU: Marcos admin committed to sustaining 'peace gains' (By Priam Nepomuceno)

MANILA – The Marcos Administration is determined to continue building on the gains of the comprehensive Philippine peace process, sustaining its momentum, and pushing forward the implementation of all signed peace agreements.

“With only a year after he assumed the highest post in the land, President (Ferdinand R.) Marcos has demonstrated his steadfast commitment to the country’s comprehensive peace process, as reflected in the major milestones achieved under his administration,” Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said in a statement Wednesday.

This came as President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. is set to deliver his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.

Galvez said the government’s Five-Point Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Agenda is anchored on a whole-of-nation, whole-of-society approach wherein all sectors of society have a vital role to play in the peacebuilding and development process.

“As evidenced by the President’s banner of unity, he has emphasized, time and again, that no one will be left behind. Each and every Filipino can help push forward and benefit from the successful implementation of the nation’s peace process,” the OPAPRU chief added.

Galvez also pointed out that under the Bangsamoro peace process, the government has helped reunite two of the country’s major Moro fronts – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) after years of separation.

“As members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the MILF and MNLF have let go of past animosities and are now working side by side in order to help uplift the lives of their people,” he added.

And through the normalization program under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), Galvez said the national government shall fast-track the transformation of MILF combatants, their families and communities through the decommissioning process.

Nearly 25K MILF combatants ‘decommissioned’

“To date, a total of 24,844 MILF combatants have successfully undergone the process of decommissioning (Phases 1 to 3), which is a vital component of the peace agreement,” Galvez said.

To aid these decommissioned combatants in their transition, he said the government is also providing them with socioeconomic assistance packages, as six of their camps are being transformed into zones of peace and development.

The government has so far provided PHP2.48 billion worth of transitional cash assistance to decommissioned combatants apart from in-kind packages such as civil registration, livelihood packages, skills training, employment support programs and community infrastructure.

Zones of peace, development

Another major development under the Bangsamoro peace process, Galvez said, is the first meeting held between the Government of the Philippine and MILF Peace Implementing Panels under the Marcos administration.

“During the meeting held last July 1, the GPH and MILF panels reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which was contained in a joint statement issued by both parties,” he said.

Under the peace process with the MNLF, Galvez said the government is focused on fulfilling the remaining commitments made under the 1996 Final Peace Agreement it signed with the Moro group.

Among these commitments, he said, is the rollout of a transformation program for MNLF members, their families and communities that seeks to improve the quality of life of the people and turn their areas into zones of peace and development.

“Through the peace coordinating committees we have jointly set up with MNLF leaders, we will ensure that our MNLF brothers and sisters shall be able to partake of the dividends of peace and development,” Galvez said.

Transformation Program

To realize these aspirations, the OPAPRU recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Mindanao State University System to roll out the initial interventions for the combatants and their communities under the MNLF Transformation Program.

As a result of the various development and peacebuilding interventions being carried out jointly by the national government and BARMM governments, the Bangsamoro has become one of the fastest-growing regions not only in Mindanao but in the country.

According to the Philippine Statistics Agency (PSA), the BARMM’s economic performance increased by an impressive 7.5 percent in 2021 and recorded the second-fastest growth rate among all regions nationwide.

The top industries that registered the highest growths rates included human health and social work activities (22.2 percent); mining and quarrying (20.2 percent); accommodation and food service activities, (17.9 percent); construction (12.2 percent); and financial and insurance activities (10.6 percent).

PSA data also showed that the BARMM ranked first in fishery production volume, with the region producing 4.25 million metric tons in 2021 and 4.34 million metric tons in 2022.

Petroleum service, coal operating contracts

As a testament to his full support of the BARMM’s development, the President witnessed on July 6, the signing of the Intergovernmental Energy Board (IEB) Circular on the Joint Award of Petroleum Service Contracts (PSCs) and Coal Operating Contracts (COCs) in the BARMM, which marks another major milestone in the Bangsamoro peace process.

The IEB Circular operationalizes the provision in Section 10, Article XIII of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, to jointly grant rights, privileges, and concessions for the exploration, development, and utilization of uranium and fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas, and coal within the territorial jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro.

The circular aims to boost economic development and draw foreign capital into the region.

Marcos said the country would not be as dependent on external fuel sources, as the IEB circular will help unleash BARMM’s energy potential and attract vital investments to the area.

"By harnessing the enormous energy potential within BARMM, we will reduce our reliance on external sources, mitigate the detrimental impacts of price fluctuations, and build a solid foundation for our country's energy security," he said.

Local Peace Engagement

To finally put an end to the decades-long communist insurgency in the country, Galvez said the government is implementing a revitalized Local Peace Engagement (LPE) initiative, as well as a Transformation Program for former rebels (FRs), their families and communities.

“The strength of LPE primarily lies in its community-based, community-driven approach wherein all members of the community, particularly local government units and the residents themselves, are actively involved in the peacebuilding process.”

The LPE is among the 12 lines of effort of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which aims to address the roots of the armed rebellion that has claimed countless lives and destroyed once thriving communities.

Since its launching in 2019, 90 local task forces were capacitated on the LPE guidelines, Conflict-Sensitivity and Peace Promoting (CSPP) approach, Women, Peace and Security (WPS), and Youth, Peace and Security (YPS).

This aided in the crafting of 65 strategic LPE plans and organization of 22 local peace panels.

Moreover, 15 provinces developed their own transformation program plans and nine special project teams were formed to assist in the initiatives.

Galvez said the Marcos Administration is also committed to implementing a high-impact, cross-cutting transformation program that is now benefiting members of other revolutionary organizations who have given up the armed struggle and embraced a peaceful life.

These groups, he said, include the Cordillera Bodong Administration–Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CBA-CPLA) and the Rebolusyonaryong Partido Manggagawa ng Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade-Tabara Paduano Group (RPM-P/RPA/ABB-TPG), now known as the "Kapatiran".

“Through the Transformation Program we are carrying out for members of the CBA-CPLA and 'Kapatiran', the government is demonstrating its sincerity to aid these ex-fighters in improving their lives and helping them earn sustainable incomes,” Galvez said.

In June 2023, a 1.3 kilometer farm-to-market road project was inaugurated, providing improved accessibility and facilitating the relocation of 53 KAPATIRAN families to the congregated site in Sitio Binacay, Barangay Talacdan, Cauayan, Negros Occidental.

During the nationwide turnover of housing units to 30,000 beneficiaries in December 2022, seven members of the "Kapatiran" were awarded with Transfer of Certificates of Title from the National Housing Authority.

The granting of land -- with full ownership and possession transferred to the former rebel beneficiaries -- is considered a major milestone in the history of the Philippine peace process.

Social healing

Under OPAPRU's Social Healing and Peacebuilding Program (SHAPE), Galvez said the government is helping individuals, families, and communities overcome trauma caused by armed conflict and build their resilience.

“The SHAPE Program is focused on implementing interventions such as peace forums, interfaith dialogues, and trauma healing sessions in order to address the root causes of violence and conflict in communities,” Galvez said.

To ensure that genuine peace and sustainable development go hand in hand, he said the Marcos administration continues to implement the "PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn" or "PAMANA" program parallel to the rigorous initiatives of the agency.

From 2011 to 2022, PAMANA has implemented projects worth Php 55.2 billion that have benefitted residents in 16 regions, 50 provinces and over 500 municipalities and cities in seven geographical zones nationwide.

“Winning the peace can be achieved by promoting a more convergent delivery of goods and services, and addressing development challenges in conflict-affected and conflict-vulnerable areas nationwide,” Galvez said.

This year, the PAMANA Program officially turned over a total of 71.6 kilometers of road projects and 309.7 meters of bridges in Alamada, Cotabato and Silvino Lubos, in Northern Samar.

By July 2023, PAMANA would have already turned over an additional PHP1.4 billion worth of road networks connecting the provinces of Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Sur Surigao del Norte, and Butuan City.

Galvez also underscored that the government can only effectively implement all of these interventions with the full support of all stakeholders – line agencies, local government units, civil society, academe, the religious and security sector and the international donor community.

“All of the significant gains we have achieved under the comprehensive Philippine process are a result of all sectors of society working together and doing their part. The President recognizes the power of this collective effort and has vowed to harness it,” Galvez said.

US tells China to cease ‘routine harassment’ of vessels in SCS

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 12, 2023): US tells China to cease ‘routine harassment’ of vessels in SCS (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

RESPECT THE LAW. Seen in this photo taken on June 30, 2023 are Chinese vessels in Iroquois Reef, a body of water within the West Philippine Sea. The United States on Wednesday (July 12, 2023) called on China to respect international law and cease its “routine harassment” of public vessels lawfully operating in the South China Sea. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy)

MANILA – The United States on Wednesday called on China to respect international law and cease its “routine harassment” of public vessels lawfully operating in the South China Sea.

In a press statement on the seventh anniversary of the 2016 arbitration ruling, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US will continue to champion a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region.

“We continue to urge Beijing to comport its maritime claims with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention; cease its routine harassment of claimant state vessels lawfully operating in their respective exclusive economic zones; halt its disruption to states’ sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve and manage natural resources; and end its interference with the freedoms of navigation and overflight of states lawfully operating in the region,” he said.

He then reiterated Washington’s 2020 policy which called out Beijing’s “unilateral actions” to exploit resources within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

In a Stratbase forum on Wednesday, US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson highlighted the need for the two states to strengthen alliance amid challenges to the rules-based order, including “provocations” on the vital sea lane.

The envoy recalled the previous use of a laser device against the crew of a Philippine Coast Guard vessel in February and the unsafe maneuver conducted by Chinese Coast Guards in the South China Sea.

“Such provocations, in addition to threatening freedom of navigation and oversight, have other consequences, including increased environmental degradation, reduced energy security, and a less stable investment climate, all of which directly and negatively affect lives and livelihoods,” she said.

In addition, she recognized the critical role that Manila plays in the Indo-Pacific region.

“When we look at Southeast Asia, from geography to demographics to the economy, we see that what happens in the Philippines is critical to what happens in the Indo Pacific and the world,” she said.

Deployment of militias to boost anti-NPA drive in E. Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 12, 2023): Deployment of militias to boost anti-NPA drive in E. Samar (By Sarwell Meniano)

FIGHTING INSURGENTS. Some of the 88 new members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit assigned in Samar and Eastern Samar provinces in this July 5 photo. The deployment, according to the military, would boost the campaign of the government to end the insurgency in two provinces. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Army)

TACLOBAN CITY – The deployment of 88 civilian volunteers as militias in Eastern Samar would be a big boost to the Philippine Army’s campaign to end insurgency in two Samar provinces.

Brig. Gen. Noel Vestuir, commander of the Army’s 802nd Infantry Brigade (802nd IBde) said the new members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) will augment the forces of three military battalions assigned in some parts of Samar and Eastern Samar provinces.

“We have additional warm bodies that could be deployed to support our campaign of ending the local communist armed conflict. With additional men, we can now expand our operational reach, secure more communities, and implement more development projects in areas that were already cleared from the influence of the New People’s Army (NPA),” Vestuir said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Their basic military training completed on July 5 physically and mentally prepared the CAFGUs to perform their duties as members of the auxiliary force of government forces.

Assigned to different patrol bases, they will form part of the Integrated Territorial Defense System (ITDS) in the cleared areas. The ITDS serves as a physical and psychological barrier against the expansion and recovery efforts of armed rebels.

The deployment of auxiliary forces came more than a month after the transfer of the Army’s 802nd IBde from Leyte province to Eastern Samar.

The brigade, which was based in Camp Downes in Ormoc City for more than two decades, was officially transferred to Borongan City in Eastern Samar to help meet the target of ending insurgency in Samar provinces within the year.

With the addition of the 802nd IBde in Eastern Samar, all three brigades under the 8th Infantry Division are now operating in Samar Island.

The 801st IBde is based in Hinabangan, Samar with operations covering some parts of Samar, Eastern Samar and the Pacific towns of Northern Samar province.

Based in Catarman, Northern Samar, the 803rd IBde covers some areas in the northern part of Samar province and the rest of Northern Samar province.

Areas under the newly transferred brigade are the nine towns in Samar province and 15 towns and one city in Eastern Samar province.

Under the brigade are three battalions -- the 46th Infantry Battalion in Calbiga town, 63rd IB in Basey town and 78th IB in Borongan City.

Arbitral ruling upholds PH sovereignty over WPS - Wescom

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 12, 2023): Arbitral ruling upholds PH sovereignty over WPS - Wescom (By Izza Reynoso)

PH TERRITORY. Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, the commander of the Western Command (WESCOM) on Wednesday (July 11, 2023) said his troops are committed to protecting "every inch" of Philippine territory. Seen in this photo taken on June 30, 2023 are Chinese vessels entering the Iroquois Reef, a body of water within the West Philippine Sea. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Navy)

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan – The Western Command (Wescom) on Wednesday marked the seventh anniversary of the country's arbitration victory over China's territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea.

Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos, the commander of Wescom, gathered troops and non-uniformed personnel in commemorating the landmark ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on July 12, 2016.

He said the PCA’s decision bestowed credibility and recognition upon the sovereignty, sovereign rights and entitlements of the Filipino people in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

"As the frontliner in enforcing this ruling, the Western Command remains the dominant force in protecting every inch of the country’s territory and the riches in our exclusive economic zone," he said.

Despite China's claim that the ruling lacks enforceability and their continuous and provocative attempts to justify their position, Carlos said the arbitration victory has profound implications for the maritime security of the country within its territorial waters.

Carlos said the decision establishes a crucial precedent for international law and underscores the significance of resolving maritime disputes peacefully through arbitration, as well as adhering to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"We are heartened by the solid fact that the decision is now part of international law, is recognized by the international community, and has become the basis for policies and actions in the WPS," Carlos said.

"We are one with our neighbors and allies in enforcing a rules-based order so that peace and order, freedom of navigation, trade and commerce, and the gifts of nature will continue to flourish to be enjoyed by all future generations," he added.

Carlos also made sure to convey his pride and admiration for the men and women of Wescom who diligently serve as frontline defenders, protecting every part of Philippine territory and the precious resources within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

"In our remotest outposts at sea, very few dare to go because of the unpredictability of the temperament of the forces of man and nature. There, the Wescom soldiers raise the Philippine Flag without fail and proudly fly, sail, and stand guard to defend what is definitively ours," he stated.