Tuesday, September 12, 2023

22 ex-BIFF get aid, business counseling for stable future

From the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation (NDBC) Website (Sep 13, 2023): 22 ex-BIFF get aid, business counseling for stable future (By: Edwin O. Fernandez)

COTABATO CITY – Two leading ministries in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) have jointly extended aid to former Moro extremists as part of their mainstreaming on Wednesday.

The Ministry of the Interior and Local Government (MILG), the Ministry of Trade, Investment, and Tourism (MTIT) Maguindanao office, jointly profiled, evaluated and offered business counseling to 22 former members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Sept. 12 at the headquarters of 34th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Salunayan, Midsayap, North Cotabato.

MILG and MTIT, along with BARMM’s partners – the Army’s 34th IB and 90th Infantry Battalion, offered the BARMM’s Project TuGoN (Tulong Ng Gobyernong Nagmamalasakit) for former Moro extremists who surrendered to the government in the hope of reforming their lives for good.

These former combatants were supported by the 602nd Infantry Brigade's 34th and 90th Infantry Battalions, and they received business counseling to help them develop entrepreneurial skills and establish sustainable livelihoods, paving the way for these individuals and their communities to have a brighter and more stable future.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, MILG minister, said the goal was to help them start a business that is both profitable and long-term sustainable.

Participating in the activity with their families, the former rebels demonstrated that they understand how crucial family support is to success.

He said, families can help the business succeed in the long run by sharing duties, offering emotional support, and contributing financially.

As families and former combatants cooperate to achieve a common objective, this can also help to improve community social cohesion, according to Sinarimbo.

The entrepreneurship training and livelihood assistance program of Project TuGoN is more than just an initiative; it represents a significant step toward the reintegration and empowerment of former combatants in Maguindanao del Sur and the Special Geographic Area.

Program officers from the MTIT facilitated the training sessions. Their experience gave them useful knowledge and insights on a range of entrepreneurship-related subjects.

Lawyer Marvin D Mokamad, MILG Interior Affairs Services director, has shown how committed the BARMM government is to assisting ex-combatants in re-entering society and creating better futures for themselves and their families.

"You can't change the past, but you can shape the future," Mokamad said.

“Take advantage of the opportunities that the government provides. We are committed to assisting you throughout your journey, providing guidance and support as you work to create a sustainable and prosperous future for your family," he added.

The activity was attended by MTIT-Maguindanao Provincial Director Romeo Diocolano, Lt. Colonel Rey C Rico, 34th Infantry Battalion commander, Mr. Abdulbasit R Benito, MOH monitoring and evaluation officer, Chief Shiela Joy M Mangco of MTIT-Maguindanao, Jaber B Macacua, Project TuGoN MILG Program Manager, and other AFP officers and enlisted personnel.


Senator: Did presence of US aircraft contribute to success of Ayungin resupply mission?

 From CNN Philippines (Sep 12, 2023): Senator: Did presence of US aircraft contribute to success of Ayungin resupply mission? (By CNN Philippines Staff)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 12) — Senators raised concerns about the deployment of a US Navy aircraft over the Ayungin Shoal during the recent resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre, wondering if its presence contributed to the operation's success.

On Sept. 8, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) led another resupply mission in the Ayungin Shoal, which China tried and failed to block. A Boeing P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft monitored the operation.

READ: PH concludes new resupply mission to Ayungin after continued 'harassment' by China

PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Jay Tarriela told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday that the agency did not coordinate with the United States for this.

However, Defense Undersecretary Ignacio Madriaga told senators during a joint committee inquiry on Tuesday that the AFP coordinated with the US.

To Senator Robin Padilla, the move may have provoked China to escalate tensions. He also repeatedly asked if the resupply mission was successful because of the US presence.

Madriaga, however, said it was through the bravery of the PCG and the Navy that the resupply was completed.

"Ang presensya po ng Amerikano dun is tulong lang sa maritime domain awareness and parang may 'eye in the sky' na nanonood…," Madriaga clarified. "Kaya po ng PCG at ng Navy 'yan."

[Translation: The US' presence was only to help in maritime domain awareness and it's like there was an 'eye in the sky' watching…The PCG and the Navy were capable of doing the mission.]

While officials said the Philippines could do the mission on its own, Tarriela admitted that it boosted PCG morale and confidence knowing that the US was watching and documenting the events.

Senate President Miguel Zubiri, however, welcomed assistance from allies in ensuring security over the contested waters.

"Let us use our friends and alliances to help strengthen our claim dito sa exclusive economic zone (EEZ) natin [in our EEZ]...," Zubiri said. "Kailangan natin ang tulong ng ating mga ka-alyado [we need help from our allies] whether we like it or not."

Meanwhile, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal also said that the Chinese Coast Guard's actions towards Filipino vessels in the West Philippine Sea could be considered military activity, as the former falls under the People's Liberation Army control.

Batongbacal also said that the escalation of tensions in the West Philippine Sea since 2021 was due to Beijing's activities in Manila's exclusive economic zone, particularly through its use of a military-grade laser and dangerous maneuvers against Filipino coast guard vessels.


Presence of US vessel boosts soldiers' morale'

From the Manila Times (Sep 13, 2023): Presence of US vessel boosts soldiers' morale' (By Bernadette E. Tamayo)

THE presence of a US Navy aircraft during the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) boosted the morale of Filipinos — both civilians and troops — the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.

PCG spokesman Commo. Jay Tarriela made the remark on Tuesday as some sectors questioned the US aircraft's presence during the September 8 resupply mission.

PCG spokesman Commo. Jay Tarriela

During a chance interview at the Senate, where he and other PCG officials attended a hearing on the WPS, Tarriela was asked whether the US Navy's presence during that time would further escalate tension between the Philippines and China.

"I have to be very honest about it. It made them more confident, and their morale is also high knowing the fact that the US government is watching and documenting whatever is happening while we are doing the resupply operation," Tarriela said.

Pressed about whether the Filipino fishermen also felt the same, he said, "I think for the Filipino fishermen we should not discount the effort of the national government."

"For the Philippine Navy [and] the Philippine Coast Guard, we have been active in maintaining our presence in the West Philippine Sea," he said.

"We are more transparent to create consciousness that the national government is doing its commitment that we are going to maintain our presence in the West Philippine Sea," Tarriela added.

PCG commandant Admiral Artemio Abu said they look forward to collaborating with the Senate in refining bills that will "ultimately bolster our national defense and safeguard our sovereign interests in these critical waters."

"Rest assured that the Philippine Coast Guard will continue to work hard to protect the interests and rights of the Philippines over waters under Philippine jurisdiction and continue to adhere to our mandate of saving lives and property at sea," he said in a statement.

"Locally, the use of the sea in inter-island illegal activities is common, with syndicates and criminals taking advantage of this archipelagic feature, unguarded coastlines, and porous borders," Abu said.

The construction of radar stations in strategic areas "is thus necessary to boost maritime surveillance capabilities to address and counter various maritime threats, most especially piracy, armed robbery and maritime terrorism," he said.

"More importantly, the prospective infrastructure subject to the laws to be enacted will likewise increase naval warfare capability, considering the current issues surrounding our maritime rights in the West Philippine Sea," he added. "These developments could further technological infrastructure and equipment in line with the acknowledgment of several senators as to the growing aggressions and violations conducted by China."


AFP preparing contingency plans in case of armed attacks in West PH Sea

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 13, 2023): AFP preparing contingency plans in case of armed attacks in West PH Sea (By: Charie Abarca)

MANILA, Philippines — Contingency plans are being crafted in case armed attacks transpire amid China’s continued incursion in the West Philippine Sea, said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Captain Peter Jempsun de Guzman.

De Guzman made this statement on Tuesday during a joint Senate committee public hearing.

In the said inquiry, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa prodded de Guzman on how prepared the force would be if an event such as this occurred.

To this, de Guzman answered: “We will be ready when the time comes.”

“We are preparing the necessary contingency plans with the supervision of the Department of National Defense for all eventualities, especially in the ongoing missions in the West Philippine Sea,” he added

The tension between China and the Philippines has increased following the August 5 water cannon incident in Ayungin Shoal. However, the latest aggression occurred when China Coast Guard vessels attempted to block Philippine vessels while moving towards BRP Sierra Madre for a resupply mission on September 8.

Dela Rosa then told the AFP official that if that time comes, the lawmakers present in the hearing are all willing to “carry weapons and join the force in fighting.”

“[If] that time comes, just call us — Senators Robin Padilla, Francis Tolentino, Jinggoy Estrada, [and] Risa Hontiveros, we will go with you. We will carry weapons. We will fight there and we will join you,” dela Rosa added.


EDCA projects set for inspection

From Malaya Business Insight (Sep 13, 2023):  EDCA projects set for inspection (By Victor Reyes)

THE commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command is due to visit today three of the nine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites where Americans are allowed to put up facilities for prepositioning of equipment.

Adm. John Aquilino will visit the sites a day before a Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board meeting at the Armed Forces headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo which he and Armed Forces chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr will preside.

Aquilino will be accompanied by Brawner and US Ambassador MaryKay Carlson during his visit at the EDCA sites — Lal-lo airport and Naval Base Camilo Osias, both in Cagayan province, and Basa Air Base in Pampanga.

Lal-lo Airport and Naval Base Camilo Osias were among the four additional EDCA sites announced by MalacaƱang last April. The two others are Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Isabela, and Balabac Island in Palawan.

EDCA-related constructions at these new EDCA sites have yet to start, said Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Enrico Gil Ileto.

Basa Air Base was part of the five EDCA sites approved during the Aquino administration. The Americans have been implementing projects at the air base and at the four other sites — Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City, and Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

“The leaders, accompanied by high-ranking AFP and US Armed Forces officers, will conduct an extensive tour of the completed EDCA projects at Basa Air Base,” said Ileto.

Ileto said the tour of the EDCA sites will allow the officials the opportunity to “gain knowledge of the bases’ potential for the development of key facilities to support humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations and modernization priorities of the AFP.”

Ileto said the visit to the EDCA sites and the MDB-SEB meeting tomorrow at Camp Aguinaldo underscore the continuing partnership of the two armed forces “in enhancing national defense capabilities, as well as the shared commitment to regional security and disaster response efforts.”

“General Brawner and Admiral Aquilino’s visit signifies the commitment of both AFP and US Armed Forces to further strengthen its cooperation, ensuring that both militaries are prepared and well-equipped to respond to evolving security challenges and humanitarian crises,” said Ileto.

“The AFP looks forward to sharing insights from this visit and the MDB-SEB meeting, which together contribute to the enduring partnership between the two nations,” added Ileto.

Signed in 2014, EDCA allows the Americans to pursue at the agreed sites various activities, including training; transit; support and related activities; refueling of aircraft; bunkering of vessels; temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels, and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; prepositioning of equipment, supplies, and materiel; deploying of forces and materiel.

The agreement also permits the US to preposition and store defense equipment, supplies and materiel, including, but not limited to, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief equipment, supplies and materiel.

China has opposed the expansion of the EDCA sites, particularly those in Cagayan which is near Taiwan which China considers as its province. It accused the US of interfering in the situation between China and Taiwan.


Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri yesterday said he wants the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification, and Reconciliation to review policies on the use of laptops and electronic gadgets donated by China to agencies in the country to determine if they will not compromise national security.

He said the committee should look into the laptops and computer hardware and software donated by China which are being used by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Coast Guard, Department of Information and Communications Technology, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, among other agencies.

“China is known to donate laptops, and other computer systems. I am going to ask the chairman to make a review with the different agencies… As far as I am concerned, we are already hacked. I am sure they’re tapping into information we are giving out,” Zubiri said in mixed Filipino and English the during the committee hearing.

Zubiri and other senators recently met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese who told them that Australia has replaced gadgets donated by China because of possible implications on national security.

Also during the hearing, Zubiri said the Senate will increase “by the billions of pesos” the proposed budgets for the Armed Forces and the Philippine Coast Guard for them to be more effective in patrolling the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Zubiri said the increase will go to the AFP’s and PCG’s confidential funds and their regular budgets for line items. He did not disclose the amount and other details said part of the budget increase will be “how we can increase the cybersecurity strategy of our armed forces” and the coast guard.


Sen. Robin Padilla said the continuing escalation of tension in the WPS could be due to the deployment of US reconnaissance plane which recently monitored the resupply mission in the WPS.

He said the situation could worsen if China also deploys a reconnaissance plane.

“Papano kung nagpalipad ang dayuhan ng eroplano nila, ano ang reaction natin? Ano ang magiging reaction natin kung sila nagpalipad, nagpaliparan, tayo maiipit sa gitna (What will happen if a foreigner deploys its plane, what will be our reaction? What will be our reaction if they deploy their airplane, and then the other one deploys, and we will be caught in between them),” Padilla said.

Professor Jay Batongbacal said the US has nothing to do with the rising tension between the Philippines and China in the WPS since the “escalation” of tension was started by China when it built military structures in the Spratly group of islands – in Mischief Reef, Scarborough Shoal, and Fiery Cross Reef – which are inside the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

He said the situation worsened when China stationed two reconnaissance planes in Fiery Cross Reef, and two fast attack missile boats in Mischief Reef, while its People’s Liberation Army ships have been anchored in each of the three military bases in Spratlys.

He said the China’s aggression started in 2014 when it blocked the resupply mission to troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal.

Padilla insisted the Philippines does not need the help of the Americans who seem to just use the country in its conflict with China.

Batongbacal disagreed, and said the presence of the Americans can be of big help to the Philippines in the problems in the WPS since the US is a “treaty ally.”

He said China is getting more aggressive in the WPS as it is taking advantage of the country’s weak external self-defense capability.

Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, the committee chairman, said the Philippines should accept all the help being offered by allies because “we are not in the position not to accept them” amid the problems in the WPS.
– With Raymond Africa


NPA loses 7 members, firearms in Caraga, Northern Mindanao

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 9, 2023): NPA loses 7 members, firearms in Caraga, Northern Mindanao (By MIKE CRISMUNDO & PHILIPPINE NEWS AGENCY)

BUTUAN CITY – The New People’s Army in Caraga and Northern Mindanao faced setbacks following armed encounters with State forces and the surrender of six insurgents, the military said on Tuesday, September 12.

“Two encounters were recorded on Monday, one in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, and another in Cabanglasan, Bukidnon, which resulted in the death of an NPA insurgent and confiscation of three high-powered firearms,” Major Francisco Garello, Army 4th Infantry Division civil-military operations office chief, said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

identified the slain NPA rebel as Dexter Maca, a member of Platoon 1 of the weakened NPA Guerilla Front 30, Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee. He was killed in an encounter with the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion in Tandag City.

SIX New People’s Army rebels yield to State forces in Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte on Monday, September 11, handing over five high-powered firearms. A separate clash resulted in the killing of a communist rebel in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur. (4th ID)

Government forces recovered a Bushmaster rifle with ammunition in the encounter site.

Garello said Monday's clash in Barangay Mandahican, Cabanglasan involved 10 NPA fighters under a unit of the North Central Mindanao Regional Committee.

“Our troops recovered two high-powered firearms at the encounter site, including one AK47 rifle, a Garand rifle, and assorted medical supplies,” he said.

The 4th ID confirmed in another statement on Tuesday the surrender of six NPA fighters under NPA Guerrilla Front 21 in Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte.

The group, who yielded on Monday, handed over five high-powered firearms.

1st Lt. Jade Bryce Bune, civil-military operations officer of 29th Infantry Battalion, identified the surrenderers as “Ka Reb-Reb,” “Ka Lawin,” ”Ka Sorating,” “Ka Angel,” “Ka JR,” and “Ka Sky" or "Carlo.”

The surrenderers are still under debriefing and documentation process for ECLIP enrollment and payment of their surrendered firearms.

The 29th IB led by commanding officer Lt. Col. Cresencio C. Gargar welcomed the surrenderers and assured them of assistance in their new way of life.

"I am glad that you have decided to lay down your arms and decided to surrender," the 29th IB commander said. "Now that you are here, rest assured that you will be assisted and guided to properly return to normal life,” Gargar added.

Gargar reiterated his call to the remaining NPA to surrender. "The time is at its peak to lay down their arms as our door is always open for those who wanted to start a new life and be with their family now that Christmas is fast approaching."

Major Gen. Jose Maria Cuerpo II, 4th ID commander, said there is no letup in the campaign against communist guerrillas.

“The Army and the police will further intensify their operations to track and pursue remaining communist rebels in Caraga and Northern Mindanao,” he said.

Last week, the 4th ID recovered an M16 rifle and an AK-47 rifle after an encounter in the hinterlands of Barangay Bagyang, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur.