Monday, September 4, 2023

PH, US conduct bilateral sail in West Philippine Sea

From CNN Philippines (Sep 4, 2023): PH, US conduct bilateral sail in West Philippine Sea (By CNN Philippines Staff)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 4) – The navies of Manila and Washington launched a bilateral sail in the West Philippine Sea, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Monday.

The Philippine Navy’s guided-missile frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF150) and the US Navy’s Alrleigh Burke-class guided missile-destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) will carry out “Division Tactics rehearsal” as part of the operation, the AFP said.

The ongoing bilateral sail off Palawan is being conducted under a “Mutual Defense Board – Security Engagement Board framework” and it aims to strengthen maritime cooperation and operational interoperability between Manila and Washington’s navies.

It is also seen as an opportunity to test and refine the Philippine Navy and the US’ Indo-Pacific Navy’s “existing maritime doctrine” and to demonstrate their capabilities in the region.

The bilateral sail comes just a week after Beijing released its “10-dash line map,” a move which Manila protested. The expanded claim covered nearly the entire South China Sea and overlapped with the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

The West Philippine Sea is the portion of the South China Sea which is part of the Philippines’ EEZ.

READ: PH rejects, protests China’s expanded 10-dash line in South China Sea

In 2016, an arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s previous “nine-dash line” claim that overlapped with Manila’s EEZ and continental shelf.

Meanwhile, Manila and Washington are still working out the details of the joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea, which could come to fruition this year.

READ: PH-US finalizing joint patrols in WPS - NSC official

Police foils bombing attempt in Iligan

From MindaNews (Sep 3, 2023): Police foils bombing attempt in Iligan (By RICHEL V. UMEL)

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 3 Sept) – Police authorities here have foiled a bombing attempt in an ukay-ukay (used clothing) store near the Gaisano Mall downtown Sunday morning, just a few days after the city opened its month-long Diyandi Festival leading to the city fiesta towards the end of September.

But Col. Reinante delos Santos, city police director, told MindaNews hours after the commotion that initial reports from members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team showed that the four improvised explosive devices (IEDs) wrapped in garbage bags “lacked several components” for it to be able to explode.

Major Felix Rabago Jr., commander of Iligan City Police Station 5, said that a call from a concerned citizen prompted his unit to proceed to the suspected location and cordoned off the area near Emiat’s Treasurehunt Secondhand Shoppe along Consunji St. across Gaisano Mall’s southern entrance, causing monstrous traffic as it is situated just a few meters from the national highway.

Rabago said the EOD and K9 units repeatedly searched the area for bombs, then initiated a water cannon disruptor to disable the suspected IED.

He said they found four containers with alleged ammonium nitrate (used in fertilizer but highly explosive and thus commonly used in IEDs), fuel oil, two-way handheld radio, three keypad cellphones, one-inch concrete nails, switches and wires.

Delos Santos said the EOD team is still finalizing its report and assessing the IEDs as to their potential to cause heavy damage.

He said they are still investigating as to the possible motive of those who left the IEDs in a commercial area.

Rabago said they have already secured a copy of the CCTV footage from a commercial establishment showing the movement of the suspect that carried the backpack containing the IEDs minutes before police received the report.

Iligan’s social media erupted Sunday morning as some posted that a bomb was found in the ukay-ukay store even before the police could comment on the matter. An owner of a restaurant nearby lamented that their customers hurriedly left because of the bomb scare.

Mayor Frederick Siao lauded the police for immediately responding to the call on the suspected bomb.

He assured Iliganons the explosion they heard was only the water disruptor initiated by the EOD team to make sure that the IEDs would be disabled.

The mayor said that the city will implement more security measures in the coming days. “I am asking the cooperation of everyone to follow the procedures and policies being implemented for our maximum protection,” he added.

Siao told the police to double their efforts to make sure that Iliganons will be safe, and called on the public to immediately report to the police any possible threats.

Delos Santos said an additional police augmentation force has arrived from the Police Regional Office 10.

Brig. Gen. Anthon Abrina, commander of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry “Magbalantay” Brigade, assured Iliganons of the military’s support through Task Force Iligan. (Richel V. Umel / MindaNews)

1 hurt in grenade attack in Maguindanao del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 4, 2023): 1 hurt in grenade attack in Maguindanao del Sur (By Edwin Fernandez)

TWIN BLASTS. Police in Buluan, Maguindanao del Sur, launch a post-blast investigation in a village where two rifle launcher-fired M79 grenades fired landed in a residential area, leaving a resident slightly injured. The glass panes of a residential house (inset) were also shattered from the explosion. (Photo from Buluan MPS)

BULUAN, Maguindanao Sur – A person was injured when two M-79 grenades fired by unidentified individuals landed in the residential areas here on Sunday dawn.

In a report Monday, Lt. Cemafranco Cemacio, the municipal police chief, said the twin explosions were recorded at around 2 a.m. in the residential area of Purok 3, Barangay Digal.

“One of the grenades landed on the roof of one of the houses that slightly injured one person,” Cemacio said.

The victim was brought to the hospital, he added.

Cemacio said they have yet to identify the perpetrators and motive behind the attack.

“We strongly condemn such violent acts that sow fear among citizens and disrupt the existing peace and order,” he said.

Cemacio said they are also trying to determine if the attack is related to the upcoming barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections next month.

22 ex-NPA supporters pledge loyalty to gov't in Albay

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 4, 2023): 22 ex-NPA supporters pledge loyalty to gov't in Albay (By Connie Calipay)

ALLEGIANCE TO GOV'T. A total of 22 former supporters of the New People's Army (NPA) are shown after vowing loyalty to the government on Sunday (Sept. 3, 2023). This followed their surrender to authorities after withdrawing their membership from the sectoral front organization of the communist terrorist group. (Photo courtesy of PRO5)

LEGAZPI CITY – At least 22 residents of Camalig town in Albay who were former supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) vowed loyalty to the government in a ceremony at Camp Gen. Simeon Ola here on Sunday.

In an interview on Monday, Lt. Col. Malu Calubaquib, Police Regional Office-5 (Bicol) spokesperson, said those who withdrew their membership from the sectoral front organization (SFO) will receive assistance from the government as they embark on a new chapter in their lives.

"The assistance includes participation in a structured reintegration program, access to livelihood opportunities and educational support for their children," she said.

Calubaquib said the withdrawal of support serves as a testament to the power of change, unity and the hope for a brighter future.

She noted that the former rebel supporters were deceived into rebellion by being "recruited by a certain 'Ka Sonia' to work for a private company".

Calubaquib said the 22, who once stood with the communist terrorist groups (CTGs), were warmly welcomed by PRO5 Director Brig. Gen. Westrimundo Obique and officials of other government agencies including the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency 5, Naval Forces Southern Luzon, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Civil Military Operations of the Philippine Army and the Philippine Air Force.

During the event, a representative from the SFO delivered a heartfelt message and shared testimonies about his experiences in the CTG.

One former NPA supporter, Jojo Nowa, said his wish is to get benefits for his family.

"This is why we were baffled when a series of meetings were conducted and topics tackled were inappropriate to our work. We were deceived by the declarations of Ka Sonia who enticed us to condemn and overthrow the government. Our intentions as a worker are clear," he said.

Nowa said they are grateful for the government program that helps former rebels since this will help them clear their names.

Calubaquib said the government remains committed to supporting all individuals who wish to turn away from violence and seek opportunities for growth and development.

Ex-rebel urges young pregnant NPA members to lay down arms

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 4, 2023): Ex-rebel urges young pregnant NPA members to lay down arms (By Mary Judaline Partlow)

YOUTH SUMMIT. Forty-seven young individuals completed the three-day 1st Youth Leadership Summit in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental on Sunday (Sept. 3, 2023). One of the participants and resource speakers was a former rebel and a young mother who surrendered last May and who shared her experiences while with the New People's Army in southern Negros Oriental. (PNA photo by Judy Flores Partlow)

DUMAGUETE CITY – A former rebel has called on pregnant members of the underground movement to give up their cause and surrender to authorities so they could give their children a good future.

Clarice (not her real name), a 21-year-old mother of a four-month-old, gave her testimony as a speaker/participant in the three-day 1st Youth Leadership Summit (YLS) in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental which concluded on Sunday.

In an interview with the Philippine News Agency, she called on at least four other young pregnant New People’s Army (NPA) members to rejoin mainstream society.

She said these young women, if they still remain with the NPA, are bound to leave their newborn babies with families unknown to them, with the risk of not ever seeing their children again.

She also urged youth leaders in Tanjay City to be wary of the deceptions and lies of the NPA that she had personally experienced.

“I am a victim of the lies and deceptions of the NPA. I was exploited and I fell prey to their false promises of better living conditions. Do not be fooled by what they tell you,” Clarice said in the local dialect.

Recounting her experience in the underground movement, she said that she became a vulnerable target of the NPA because of her lack of education as well as her family background.

Separated from her seven siblings at two years old after their mother died, Clarice said her father brought her to Silay, Negros Occidental where she lived until she was 19.

She returned home to Tamlang Valley, Sta. Catalina.

She said she had to fend for herself in Silay, working as a house help because her father already had a second family.

Her siblings in Sta. Catalina came across her on social media and convinced her to come home so she decided to go back to her roots.

Once there, she enrolled as a “visitor” in third grade at an elementary school but never completed the school year because of fear of being rejected.

She suffered the stigma and around this time, two women recruited her to join the NPA, telling her that life would be easier if she were to join the insurgency movement.

But things were far different from what she had expected. There were plenty of restrictions and she said she carried a firearm even when she was not running errands for the higher-ups.

Clarice met her husband, Jose (not her real name), last year and they were “married” by the NPA, although she knew the ceremony was not legally binding.

It was only when she conceived that they realized the dangers of having a baby while in the underground movement.

Clarice and Jose finally made arrangements for their surrender to the Army’s 11th Infantry Battalion (IB) based in Siaton, Negros Oriental last May. They are now happily settled in a safe place.

During the Youth Leadership Summit, Clarice said she learned a lot of new things which opened her eyes to the real world of peace and freedom.

The YLS is funded by the Tanjay City government and facilitated by the 11th IB headed by commanding officer, Lt. Col. Michael Aquino, with the help of the provincial Youth for Peace. It graduated 47 aged 15 to 25, including Clarice.

The activity prepares the young participants as future leaders with lectures on the environment, illegal drugs, terrorism and the role of youth in nation-building.

Jestoni Cuadra, president of the Negros Oriental Youth for Peace, said he is honored and privileged for being chosen to lead the group.

“It is a responsibility to be able to serve the youth and the biggest challenge is to get their attention because the reality is in this current generation, they have little memory retention,” he pointed out.

Earl John Tocao, chairman of the Tanjay YLS chapter, said “it is very transformational and I am now more empowered to lead the group, especially as I am a member of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgende and queer) and I hope to see equal treatment among all”.

Tocao said he will be working closely with the LGU and other sectors to promote the welfare and future of the youth in Tanjay.

Jeannette Quila, chairperson of the Youth Development Program of Tanjay City, said the event “molded the character of the participants and inspires us to do what we thought we were not capable of doing in terms of leadership."

Quila admits a “change of personality” after the training, saying she used to have little self-confidence.

PH security adviser promotes Church's role to end terrorism

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 4, 2023): PH security adviser promotes Church's role to end terrorism (By Priam Nepomuceno)

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año (PNA file photo)

MANILA – The Catholic Church plays an important role in ending violence and terrorism in the country, National Security Adviser Eduardo M. Año said over the weekend.

This was after the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs (CBCP-ECPA) became the first private-sector representative to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“We are opening the doors of NTF-ELCAC to the Church because it has an important role to play in ending violence and terrorism in the country. For more than 50 years, we have lived under the scourge of the communist armed conflict. With peace now in sight, the Church has an important role to play in ensuring peace and development in the long term,” said Año, who is also the National Security Council director general, in a statement.

He added that they are looking forward to working with the CBCP in pursuing peace and development in all parts of the country, especially in conflict-affected areas.

Año said they are also eyeing a productive engagement with the CBCP and are open to suggestions from the Church in adopting “moral and ethical approaches in addressing communist insurgency” as earlier mentioned by CBCP president and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.

He said that with the CBCP's representation in NTF-ELCAC, they can immediately address concerns raised by the Church or by cause-oriented groups supported by them.

"Because of this development, the Church will have more opportunity to relay its concerns, since its mandate is to act as a liaison of the CBCP to (the) government,” he added.

CBCP-ECPA executive secretary Fr. Jerome Secillano attended the NTF-ELCAC’s executive committee meeting last Aug. 31 presided by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in Malacañang.

Año said the NTF-ELCAC’s main mandate is to formulate a whole-of-government approach to end armed conflict in the country and that the CBCP-ECPA’s membership in the task force ensures a whole-of-nation participation because the religious sector is an important component of the nation.

Año added that he sees the CBCP making a significant contribution to the development of areas previously under NPA influence as well as facilitating societal inclusivity in pursuit of peace.

With 19 guerilla fronts weakened out of 20 remaining guerilla fronts in the country, Año sees the end of the New People’s Army under the current administration.

“Given that we are now on the road to total victory, it’s necessary that we recalibrate the way we do things and the entry of the CBCP to NTF-ELCAC is one of the changes we implemented under the Marcos Jr. Administration,” he said.

Helping the people

Secillano, meanwhile, appealed to the public to be more “prudent” in issuing statements against the group’s decision to join the NTF-ELCAC Executive Committee with the sole intention "to help the people."

“We meant well sa aming (in going about with this) engagement na ito. We’re allowing ourselves to be a member of the NTF-ELCAC in good faith… Sa pagiging member namin dito sa NTF-ELCAC, we’re provided with a platform for the betterment of the people in the country,” he added.

Secillano is also the alternate representative for Bishop Reynaldo Evangelista, who is also from ECPA.

He also clarified that only the ECPA and “not the whole CBCP” would be the point of convergence for the task force because the commission's mandate is to deal with issues and concerns on public and private matters that affect the Church.

“We don’t want to be myopic in joining the NTF-ELCAC… Sana magkaroon tayo ng bukas na kaisipan at malawak na pang-unawa (I hope that we will all have an open mind and better understanding) Nakita naman namin ‘yung shift tulad ng development (we all saw the shift towards development,” he said, referring to the “paradigm shift” the government has been aggressively implementing in insurgent-cleared barangays in far-flung areas through the flagship project, Barangay Development Program.

On the issue of the so-called “red-tagging” and alleged human rights violations by government units, Secillano pointed out that the ECPA’s membership in the NTF-ELCAC will serve as an opportunity for closer dialogue.

“Everytime may (there is) red-tagging that also includes some of our priests and even bishops, we always reach out naman sa kanila at napapansin naman (to them and we always get the attention we need,” Secillano admitted, adding he sees the venue as the proper forum to prod the government to always give paramount for the promotion and protection of human rights.

“We also would want in the ExeCom (to give importance) to human rights. Mahalaga po itong component na ito dahil kabahagi po sa adbokasya ng ating Simbahan (this is important component because this is part of the advocacy of the Church)," he emphasized.

Meanwhile, NTF-ELCAC executive director Undersecretary Ernesto Torres Jr. said the CBCP-ECPA’s membership in the Execom is a “blessing” that provides an enormous boost in finding peaceful solutions to put an end to the decades-old violence espoused by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

“We’re blessed to have the CBCP,” Torres said, adding that critics should “listen to the voice of reason rather than throw stones” at the task force and the CBCP.

Last week, the government announced the inclusion of the CBCP into the NTF-ELCAC Executive Committee, a development that drew a slew of negative reactions from different groups, including the front organizations of the CPP-NPA-NDF, like the so-called “Makabayan Bloc” in Congress.

Torres further explained that there is nothing new about the “collective mission” of the task force and members of the CBCP when it comes to the government’s programs on peace, unity and development in the country.

NTF-ELCAC says gov't on track to curb remaining insurgents

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 4, 2023): NTF-ELCAC says gov't on track to curb remaining insurgents (By Priam Nepomuceno)

MANILA – The government is on track to wipe out the remaining New People's Army (NPA) units still operating in the country following the declaration of Palawan as an insurgency-free province.

The latest feat brings the country closer to the Marcos administration's vision of a united, peaceful and prosperous nation, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) said in a Facebook post Monday.

"The NTF-ELCAC lauds this achievement as a significant breakthrough that reflects the collective efforts of the local government, the security sector and civil society. " the agency stated.

The body also reiterated its commitment to promoting peace in all aspects of its work -- from diplomacy and security to development and human rights.

"We believe that peace is not only the absence of violence but also the presence of justice, equality, and dignity for all. We are one in attaining unity, peace, and development," the NTF-ELCAC said.

During the rites for the declaration of Palawan as insurgency-free in Puerto Princesa City on Sept. 1, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said the country continues to make significant strides in attaining peace and order.

“Patuloy pa rin ang proseso ng paghahanap ng kapayapaan para sa lahat ng komunidad ng Pilipinas (The process of finding peace for all communities in the Philippines is still ongoing),” he stressed.

The Chief Executive also attributed the successful implementation of the peace initiatives and anti-insurgency efforts to the government’s “whole-of-nation” approach.

Marcos lauded the “collaborative and inclusive” efforts of the Regional and Provincial Task Forces to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, Provincial Peace and Order Council, partner agencies and Palawan residents to end insurgency in the island.

PH, US warships hold 'bilateral sail' in Palawan waters

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 4, 2023): PH, US warships hold 'bilateral sail' in Palawan waters (By Priam Nepomuceno)

BILATERAL SAIL. The Philippine Navy’s BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) (right) and US Navy’s USS Ralph Johnson (left) are seen carrying out "division tactics" rehearsal at an undisclosed location off the waters of Palawan province on Monday (Sept. 4, 2023). The AFP said the activity highlights the"robust maritime cooperation between the two nations. (Photo courtesy of AFP Western Command)

MANILA – Filipino and American warships are currently conducting a "bilateral sail" in waters off the western part of Palawan province, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced on Monday.

Lt. Col. Enrico Gil Ileto, AFP public affairs office chief, said the activity highlights the "robust maritime cooperation" between the two nations.

"The activity is done under the Mutual Defense Board – Security Engagement Board framework that aims to develop operational interoperability between the navies of the two countries," he said in a statement.

Ileto said the AFP deployed the Navy's guided-missile frigate, BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) while the US Navy deployed the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, the USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114).

He also said the AFP Western Command's Naval Task Force 41 and the US 7th Fleet will carry out a "division tactics" rehearsal aimed at enhancing interoperability between the two navies.

"In particular, this event aims to provide an opportunity for the Philippine Navy and the US Indo-Pacific Navy to test and refine existing maritime doctrine and demonstrate their defense capabilities in line with the shared commitment of upholding peace and security in the Indo-Pacific Region," Ileto said.

He said the AFP will continue to be involved in "bilateral and multilateral activities" that will contribute in further developing its capability to perform its mission of protecting the country's national sovereignty and national territory.