Wednesday, August 16, 2023

House ad hoc panel approves MUP pension fund reforms

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 15, 2023): House ad hoc panel approves MUP pension fund reforms (By Filane Mikee Cervantes)

TO SERVE AND PROTECT. At least 80 rookie police officers take their oath during the 1st Cycle Attrition Recruitment Program at the Police Regional Office-Soccsksargen headquarters in General Santos City on Nov. 14, 2022. The government will have a bigger share under the proposed reforms to the military and uniformed personnel pension system, the Department of Finance said. (Photo courtesy of PRO-12)

MANILA – A House ad hoc committee on Tuesday approved a substitute bill seeking to reform the pension system for military and uniformed personnel (MUP) that would be acceptable to all stakeholders.

Speaker Martin Romualdez commended the Ad Hoc Committee on the MUP Pension System after he was informed that all stakeholders, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), were satisfied with the provisions of the approved substitute bill.

“Salamat sa House Ad Hoc Committee, makakatulog na nang mahimbing ang mga military at uniformed personnel natin, gayundin ang kanilang mga pamilya. Sigurado nang mababayaran ang lahat ng pensyon nila, may dagdag pa silang sweldo taun-taon (Thanks to the House Ad Hoc Committee, our military and uniformed personnel, as well as their families, will now be able to sleep soundly. It's guaranteed that all of their pensions will be fully paid and there would be salary increases every year),” he said.

Among the salient provisions that were agreed upon during the hearing include 90 percent maximum retirement package based on base pay of all MUP, raising by 5 percent the previous package for AFP personnel, PNP personnel who served below 20 years will be eligible for separation lump sum, and fixing to 57 year old the age of retirement of all MUP.

Other important provisions include guaranteed 3 percent salary increase annually of all MUP, two separate pension management systems--one for AFP and one for civilian uniformed personnel; 50 percent indexation for MUP; and creation of a window in the pension fund system for disadvantaged pensioners.

"This landmark legislation demonstrates our unwavering commitment to the men and women in uniform, who risk their lives daily to maintain peace and order. It provides a robust, sustainable, and fair pension system that recognizes their invaluable service to our nation," Romualdez said.

He said the proposed reforms show that the House not only prioritizes the well-being of MUPs, but also ensures the country's stability.

"It is a testament to our commitment to national security and fiscal responsibility. I congratulate the Ad Hoc Committee for their hard work and dedication towards this pressing issue," he added.

Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the MUP Pension System, said the approved substitute bill is a "win-win solution" because the risks of sudden spikes in pension liabilities are removed, while also ensuring that salaries and pensions increase at "manageable levels".

"We are pleased to report to the President and to the public that, today, we have formalized a solution to the MUP Pension problem. The members of the Ad Hoc Committee on the MUP Pension System have agreed in principle on an MUP Pension Reform that is amenable to both the military and uniformed services and to the economic managers," he said.

Salceda pointed out that this development is also a win for the active personnel who will get a salary increase every year for the next 10 years, considering that the salaries have only increased nine times for the past 25 years.

"We are also ensuring that all the MUP services will get a separation benefit if they leave the service below 20 years in service. That is a new benefit to the PNP," he said.

Salceda said another agreed-upon provision is the "phased in contribution" of 5 percent for the first three years, 7 percent for the next three years, and 9 percent thereafter for active personnel; while new entrants will contribute 9 percent of their base and longevity pay for their pension.

He, however, noted that there will be a larger government counterpart contribution to complete the 21 percent contribution.

This means that the government will contribute 16 percent for the pension of those in active service during the first three years, 14 percent during the fourth to sixth year, and 12 percent for the seventh year and onwards. Government contribution for new entrants will be at 12 percent.

Salceda said the economic managers went through dozens of consultations, and that the Ad Hoc Committee ensured that all the statements and comments of the various services were heard.

"Let me reiterate the Three Guarantees of this reform: guaranteed salary increase, guaranteed pension indexation, (and) guaranteed funding sources for the pension. This is on top of the President's commitment to resolve all arrears to pensioners," he said.

Salceda said the House is committed to approving its version on third reading "as soon as possible".

Sweden offers JAS-39 aircraft for PH Air Force modernization

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16, 2023): Sweden offers JAS-39 aircraft for PH Air Force modernization (By Priam Nepomuceno)

OFFER FOR PAF MODERNIZATION. Sweden Ambassador to the Philippines, Annika Thunborg (left) and Department of National Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr. (right) during their meeting at DND headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Aug. 14, 2023. During their meeting, Thunborg offered the Saab JAS-39 "Gripen" to the Philippine Air Force for its modernization needs. (Photo courtesy of DND)

MANILA – Sweden has again offered its Saab JAS 39 "Gripen" multi-role fighter aircraft for the modernization needs of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) which is looking to beef up its fleet.

This developed following Monday's courtesy call of Sweden Ambassador to Manila Annika Thunborg to Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. at the DND headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

"On modernizing the Armed Forces of the Philippines to more effectively protect the country's territorial integrity and interests in its EEZ (exclusive economic zone), Secretary Teodoro emphasized that whatever defense acquisition the Philippines will pursue must be sustainable, interoperable, and supportable. Recognizing the Philippines' need for a modern PAF, Ambassador Thunborg highlighted Sweden's offer of its flagship multi-role fighter aircraft, the Saab JAS-39 'Gripen','' DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said in a statement Wednesday.

The JAS-39 is considered one of the top two contenders for the PAF multirole fighter (MRF) acquisition project with the other jet fighter being the US Lockheed Martin F-16V "Viper", the latest version of the American-made aircraft now being supplied in quantities in many air forces in the world.

The JAS-39 is classified as the most reliable "swing-role combat aircraft" available in the world.

The Swedish-made fighter requires minimal personnel and ground support equipment for dispersed operations and can operate from small unprepared roads. It is also equipped with sophisticated radar and sensors and weapons.

The MRFs are expected to backstop the military's existing fleet of 12 South Korean-made Mach 1.5 capable FA-50PH light jet fighters.

The requirements for the MRF project stipulate that the offered aircraft must be "fourth generation or higher."

The project also requires 12 MRFs at least capable of patrolling the country's protected waters and airspace.

The MRF project is supposed to be part of Horizon 2 of the AFP Modernization Program slated for 2018 to 2022, which aims to acquire more equipment for external defense, but was pushed back for implementation due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Exchanging regional security situation updates, Ambassador Thunborg noted the developments in the South China Sea (SCS)/West Philippine Sea (WPS) and conveyed Sweden's support for the Philippines' position and upholding the rules-based international order,” Andolong said.

"Welcoming the support from Sweden and other like-minded partners, Secretary Teodoro hoped for a global consensus on the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling on the SCS and underscored the importance of the Philippines' enforcement of its sovereign rights over its EEZ," the DND spokesperson said.

He added that both sides looked forward to the ratification and implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding concerning Cooperation in the Acquisition of Defense Materiel, which was signed between the Philippines and Sweden last June 3 in Singapore.

"In anticipation of possible projects in the future, the Swedish Ambassador proposed to facilitate the exchange of information on the two countries' differing financial systems and financing packages that Sweden could offer," Andolong stressed.

Both countries are also looking at possible cooperation or capacity-building on disaster resilience and management.

PH bats for UNCLOS-based COC in South China Sea

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16, 2023): PH bats for UNCLOS-based COC in South China Sea (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

CODE OF CONDUCT. Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo gives his keynote speech at the Dialogue on Maritime Governance in the South China Sea in Makati on Wednesday. He said the Philippine government is pushing for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that is anchored on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). (DFA photo by Maria Vanessa Ubac)

MANILA – The Philippine government is pushing for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea that is anchored on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Wednesday.

UNCLOS, also the basis of a Hague-based arbitration award that denied Beijing's "historical rights" over the South China Sea, is regarded as the Constitution of the Oceans that defines the rights of a coastal state in the seas.

It also covers freedom of navigation, development of resources and preservation of marine environment, among others.

“A Code of Conduct which finds its moorings on UNCLOS, is part of the diplomatic solution for the management and resolution of disputes in the South China Sea,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo during the highly anticipated "Dialogue on Maritime Governance in the South China Sea" co-organized by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Philippines (KAS-PH) and the Foreign Service Institute Philippines (FSI) in Makati.

“The Philippines advocates for an effective and substantive code of conduct that adheres to UNCLOS and takes into account the interests of all stakeholders, even extending beyond ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and China,” he added.

Manalo said Manila’s approach has always been “peace” as he underscores the UNCLOS’ significance as the “arbiter of good governance and order" in the disputed waters.

“Peace is in our approach, as embodied in the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes, which reaffirms the principles set out in the United Nations Charter that all States shall settle their disputes by peaceful means,” he said.

“Rule of law ensures equity in the global commons. Current complexions in the South China Sea underline its significance in governing this particular maritime domain,” he added.

Manalo pointed out that this approach will also be “crucial” in maintaining an open, inclusive and free Indo-Pacific region and the momentum of global economic growth.

China and ASEAN first started the COC discussions in 1999 but were only able to produce the nonbinding Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002.

Senior officials from China and member states of the ASEAN will be meeting for the next round of COC talks in Manila from Aug. 22 to 24.

During the Makati dialogue, KAS-PH Country Director Daniela Braun said the South China Sea has become a potential flashpoint prompting the need to discuss dispute management.

Braun said China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty in the sea, extensive land reclamation, and harassment of boats from the Philippines have antagonized competing claimant states.

In addition, she said tensions between China and the US are also "increasing" while the latter protects its security and economic interests in the region.

“These dynamics show that the risk of an armed conflict is growing and a real concern,” Braun said.

Maguindanao Sur village chief slain in IED attack, 2 others hurt

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16, 2023): Maguindanao Sur village chief slain in IED attack, 2 others hurt (By Edwin Fernandez)

Google map of Shariff Saydona, Maguindanao del Sur.

DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao Norte – A powerful improvised bomb went off Wednesday morning in Shariff Saydona town, Maguindanao del Sur, leaving a village chairman dead, while a village councilman and a civilian were seriously injured.

Brig. Gen. Oriel Pangcog, the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade commander, identified the slain official as Jun Manot Silongan of Barangay Penditen, Datu Salibo.

Silongan is the younger brother of Datu Salibo Councilor Desmon Silongan, who was killed on April 17 this year while alighting from his car in front of the town Sangguniang Bayan session hall.

Also injured in the 8:45 a.m. blast were Penditen village councilor Salik Datua and a still unidentified civilian, who were both with Silongan.

They were brought to a hospital in Midsayap, North Cotabato for treatment.

Rico Torino, Datu Salibo municipal information officer, said Silongan and his party visited the barangay hall of Ganta on Wednesday morning.

They were leaving the barangay hall premises when a bomb exploded, killing Silongan instantly due to shrapnel injuries in the head and body.

Police and military bomb experts were still at the blast site conducting a post-blast investigation as of posting time.

Communist rebel yields to Negros guv

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 16, 2023): Communist rebel yields to Negros guv (By Mary Judaline Partlow)

END INSURGENCY. The Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office and other police units in the province have stepped up their campaign against loose firearms and anti-insurgency efforts. On Wednesday (Aug. 16, 2023), they facilitated the surrender of a New People's Army rebel of the dismantled South East Front at the Office of the Governor. (PNA file photo)

DUMAGUETE CITY – A confessed member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) voluntarily surrendered to Negros Oriental Governor Manuel Sagarbarria on Wednesday at the Capitol.

A report from the Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office (NOPPO) identified the surrenderer as 37-year-old
Rene Potane Janayan, married and a resident of Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental.

Janayan, also known as Ken and Ka Esmael,
was a member of the NPA’s South East Front, identified by the Armed Forces of the Philippines as a dismantled guerilla front.

He turned over a caliber .45 pistol, three rounds of live ammunition, and a rifle grenade.

Various police and intelligence units facilitated the surrender of Janayan in connection with the government’s efforts to end the local communist insurgency and the campaign against loose firearms.

Pacific Airlift Rally participants hold 'LCLA' airdrop drills

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 15, 2023): Pacific Airlift Rally participants hold 'LCLA' airdrop drills (By Priam Nepomuceno)

'LOW COST, LOW ALTITUDE' AIRDROP. An unidentified C-130 transport is seen conducting a 'low cost, low altitude' airdrop over the skies of Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija on Tuesday (Aug. 15, 2023). This exercise is part of the ongoing Pacific Airlift Rally, which runs from Aug. 14 to 18. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Air Force)

MANILA – The participants in this year's Pacific Airlift Rally (PAR) conducted a "low-cost, low-altitude” (LCLA) airdrop in Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija on Tuesday.

"This activity is one of the flying training exercises of the Pacific Airlift Rally 2023 (PAR-23), which aims to expand the participants' capability in delivering bundle cargoes for humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations, increase participating air forces' interoperability, and improve logistics capabilities," Philippine Air Force (PAF) spokesperson Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo said in a statement Wednesday.

An LCLA airdrop is a method of delivering supplies from an aircraft.

Castillo said the term “low cost” is used because the pre-packed expendable parachutes being used for the airdrop is relatively cheaper.

Meanwhile, “low altitude” refers to the height of the aircraft during the actual drop.

Dropping from a lower altitude has been proven to be more accurate, she said.

"The LCLA serves as an opportunity for the PAF and other international counterparts to share knowledge and expertise on critical airdrop techniques," Castillo pointed out.

She said this would allow the contingent Air Force troops to improve their capabilities and be better prepared to respond to natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies.

"For the PAF, this LCLA capability will enable our airlifters to quickly deliver resupply to ground operating troops and provide relief goods to areas inaccessible by land after the onslaught of calamities and disasters," Castillo said.

The PAR-23 runs from Aug. 14 to 18 with a total of 779 participants coming from the PAF and the Philippine Army, as well as their counterparts from the United States, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste, who are set to take part in flying training, tabletop exercises and subject matter expert.

Castillo said the PAF, as a first-time host and 10th nation to facilitate this capability-building exercise, is honored to be the instrument that brought 14 countries together to achieve stronger multilateral cooperation.