Saturday, January 20, 2024

AFP’s first woman spox: Cyber expert with presidential security experience

From Rappler (Jan 21, 2024): AFP’s first woman spox: Cyber expert with presidential security experience (By BEA CUPIN)

Also the first woman battalion commander of the Philippine Army, Padilla assumes her post as the AFP shifts its focus to external threats

MANILA, Philippines – When Colonel Francel Margareth Padilla speaks of her 2023 achievements, she is quick to use the pronoun “we,” as if winning Global Security Woman Leader of the Year is an endeavor you can attribute to any and all Filipino.

Padilla, a military officer with a career spanning nearly three decades, is the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s new spokesperson – the first woman to hold the post in over 88 years of its existence.

“It underscores the thrust of the AFP to embrace diversity and promote inclusivity,” said Padilla in an interview with state-run PTV4’s Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon.

Padilla’s new role comes at a crucial time for the military. It’s just beginning to shift its focus from internal security to external threats, as a nation in the middle of “the most complicated geopolitical situation in the world right now,” according to its commander-in-chief, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Her previous experience will also come in handy, as the Philippines works to beef up its cyber and info-security infrastructure.

CYBER EXPERT. Tech and cyber security have been at the center of Padilla’s career.
Padilla, the ‘ethical hacker’

Technology is the throughline of Padilla’s career.

In 2023, she won Global Cybersecurity Woman Leader of the Year, besting nominees from 62 countries. Years prior, she was recognized as among the Top 30 Women in Security in ASEAN for 2021, having been among the Top 10 Women in Cyber Security in the Philippines in 2020.

She’ also been recognized as an “Epic Woman in Cyber” and a “Wonder Woman in Tech,” according to her official profile.

Speaking to PTV4, Padilla said it was during her time in the Presidential Security Group under the late Benigno Aquino III that she first dove deep into the world of cyber security.

“During the time of [Aquino], we greatly enhanced the digitization of the PSG,” recalled Padilla, who said they worked on setting up server farms and enhancing the cyber security wing of the group tasked to secure the President, top government officials, and visiting dignitaries.

Her PSG stint wasn’t her first interaction with the Philippines’ chief executive. During the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Padilla was among her uniformed aides.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Padilla was designated the information system officer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, according to a Philippine Information Agency report.

Padilla refers to herself as a “certified ethical hacker,” among other designations. She’s also conducted lectures abroad, and served as mentor to other cybersecurity-focused soldiers.

Other firsts

In a predominantly male organization, Padilla has other firsts under her belt.

She was the first woman battalion commander of the Philippine Army, when she was appointed commander of the 7th Signal Battalion in the Northern Luzon Area of Operations. As 7th Signal Battalion chief, Padilla oversaw the entire NOLCOM’s command, control, communications, and cyber systems.

The newly-minted spokesperson says her NOLCOM experience will be key in her new role as spokesperson. “I have first-hand connections to all these commanders,” she said. NOLCOM covers Northern and Central Luzon.

Her cybersecurity experience will come in handy, as the AFP reconfigures Horizon 3 – or its modernization plan for the coming years. Padilla said the details of Horizon 3 have yet to be finalized and approved, but it will definitely include ship and aircraft upgrades, as well as improvements in the military’s communications.

CIVIL AFFAIRS, TOO. Padilla is concurrently the Group Commander of the Media and Civil Affairs Group.

Class of 2000

Padilla is a pistol expert, a VVIP or very, very important person protector, and a judoka.

In her profile, she puts a premium on her role as a “devoted mother of two wonderful sons.” Her two children are now adults, said Padilla, with at least one done with formal education.

Padilla is the widow of the late Felicisimo Esteban Taborlupa Jr., who was also her mistah from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 2000. Taborlupa, who retired early from the military to join the Philippine Coast Guard, died in a helicopter crash in Batangas that also claimed the life of businessman Angelo King.

Asked how her late husband would have reacted to her pioneering post as the first woman spokesperson of the AFP, Padilla did not take long to consider. “Full support by the looks of it,” she said.

Padilla is concurrently the Group Commander of the Media and Civil Affairs Group of the Civil Relations Service of the AFP.

‘Uncooperative’ family member hampering massacre case

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 19, 2024): ‘Uncooperative’ family member hampering massacre case (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

The lack of cooperation of Emily Fausto, whose parents and siblings were allegedly massacred by suspected members of the New People’s Army in Brgy. Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, was blamed for murder cases still not being filed against the suspects, as of this time.

“Hindi cooperative young family member (The family member is not cooperating with us), PCol. Leo Pamittan, outgoing provincial police director of Negros Occidental, disclosed yesterday.

Pamittan, however, said they are trying their best to convince her to sign the affidavit complaint.

According to police investigations, Couple Roly and Emelda Fausto and their two minor sons were brutally killed by suspected New People’s Army rebels at their house in Sitio Kalingkingan, Brgy. Buenavista, Himamaylan City, on June 14 last year.

Asked if the police can file a case against the suspects, on behalf of the complainant, Pamittan replied “without the consent of the family, we cannot.”

Interestingly, the leader of the NPA suspects has turned out to be the father-in-law of Emily, based on the investigation of the Himamaylan City police.

Pamittan said the case against the suspects will be strong if the surviving family member will be the complainant.

If she (Emily) signs the complaint affidavit, we will file the case immediately, Pamittan said.

The Himamaylan police earlier filed grave threats and coercion charges against NPA members, who allegedly threatened a witness, according to Vincent Parra, head of the Commission on Human Rights provincial office.

Emily, according to Pamittan, had previously been cooperative with their investigations of the incident. But now, she is not cooperating with us, he added.

“Ayaw naming i coerce siya. If we will do it, mas lalong hindi siya mag cooperate (We do not want to coerce her, because if we do, the more she will not cooperate.)

As for the reason behind her refusal to cooperate, Pamittan said he has no idea.*

Accomplished Negrense officer promoted to general

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 21, 2024): Accomplished Negrense officer promoted to general (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

Newly promoted Brig. Gen. Eliglen Villaflor*

A Negrense Army officer, who is the commander of an elite unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has been promoted to the rank of brigadier general, as approved by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., based on the recommendation of Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro.

Newly-promoted Brig. Gen. Eliglen Villaflor, of Bago City, Negros Occidental, is presently the commander of the AFP Joint Special Operations Group, composed of elite units from the Philippine Army, Philippine Navy, and Philippine Air Force.

The AFP Joint Special Operations Group is tasked with conducting counter-terrorism, unconventional-guerrilla warfare, asymmetrical warfare, and highly specialized operations.

The promotion of Villaflor and seven AFP senior officers, as well as 21 regular officers of the Philippine military technical and administrative services, was contained in a letter from Malacanang, which was addressed to Defense Secretary Teodoro.

Prior to his present assignment, Villaflor also served as the acting commander of the elite Philippine Army’s Special Forces Regiment (Airborne).

Villaflor, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class 1992, started his military career with the Special Forces Regiment, having been assigned in Negros as commander of 32nd Special Force Company in Cadiz City.

He was among the winners of Metrobank Foundation—Rotary Club Makati Metro Search for The Outstanding Philippine Soldiers (TOPS) in 2016.

As former commander 4th Special Forces Battalion, Villaflor led combat operations against Abu Sayyaf and other threat groups, also while performing community service efforts that benefited thousands of residents during his two-year stint in war-torn Basilan.

As a United Nations peacekeeper, Villaflor successfully negotiated the release of civilians abducted by Syrian rebels in Golan Heights.

He was also recognized by then AFP chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana for the transformation of Army Personnel Management Center into a world-class office, when he was its head for almost two years.*

Amid wins, mission not yet over – VISCOM

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 21, 2024): Amid wins, mission not yet over – VISCOM (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

Despite excellent accomplishments of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Visayas Command in 2023, Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, its commander, declared “Our mission is definitely not over.”

Though we made significant progress in our campaign in the previous year, Arevalo said there are still issues in the community that they must address, and the neutralization of New People’s Army remnants lurking in the hinterlands.

If these are not addressed, these could cause a resurgence of the terrorist group in the Visayas region, he added.

Among all the Unified Commands of the AFP, military records showed that VISCOM topped all parameters in defeating the CPP-NPA, with five NPA guerilla fronts dismantled.

All the five NPA guerilla fronts in Negros Island have been declared “dismantled” by the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, as of December 31 last year, inching closer towards its target of declaring Negros Island as “insurgency free,” by the first quarter of 2024.

Of the 299 NPA rebels neutralized last year in Visayas, VISCOM records further indicated that 62 died during encounters, 19 were apprehended, and 218 returned to the folds of the law. In the same period, 445 firearms were recovered, while all NPA-infested communities in the Visayas have been cleared from the clutches of the terrorist group.

“For the first time in my years of service in the Visayas, VISCOM has topped all the parameters in terms of accomplishment. This is a manifestation that if we really do our best and do away with unnecessary efforts that are not contributory to our campaign, the best result will come, especially when we are doing this for our country and the Filipino people,” Arevalo told AFP commanders during a Command conference at Camp Lapulapu in Cebu City.

He also emphasized that the VISCOM accomplishments have been validated by the Filipino people, citing the latest result of the Satisfaction Survey conducted by OCTA Research Group.

Of the 85 percent satisfaction rating achieved by the AFP in the entire country, it is in the Visayas region where the highest satisfaction rating was attained, with 93 percent of the respondents expressing that they are satisfied with our internal security efforts, Arevalo further said.

Aside from its accomplishments in internal security operations, VISCOM is reported to have sustained and facilitated the implementation of 739 community development projects in the far-flung communities in the entire region of Visayas.

Arevalo also credited the VISCOM accomplishments to the support of their “partner agencies, private sectors, non-government organizations, and most especially our people, as we declare in one voice that terrorism has no place in this peace-loving, humane and civilized society.”

Arevalo also ordered Visayas commanders to sustain their gains and continue their relentless efforts in ending the local communist armed conflict in the Visayas region.

“We should not be complacent. We should not sit down on our laurels and relax. We still have so much to do. There are still remnants of the CPP-NPA that we have to pursue and neutralize, for us to ensure that the well-being of our people is protected and the democratic way of life in the region is sustained.”*

Negrense soldier slain in Iloilo encounter

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 21, 2024): Negrense soldier slain in Iloilo encounter (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

SOCO operatives of the PNP retrieved the cadavers of two suspected NPA rebels from an encounter site in Brgy. Sag-ang, La Castellana, Negros Occidental.* PA photo

A Negrense soldier died in a gun battle with New People’s Army rebels in Iloilo, while the three rebels that died in separate gunbattles in Negros Island have been identified.

PFC Rodelo Alfanza, of Sagay City, Negros Occidental, died following an encounter on January 17 with about 15 NPA rebels in Brgy. Igpaho, Tubongan, Iloilo.

Alfanza, a member of the Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion, succumbed to a gunshot injury on the neck. He was declared dead on arrival at a hospital in Iloilo, where he and an injured companion were treated, according to a statement issued by the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division.

In a statement, Maj. Gen. Marion Sison, 3ID commander, said that PFC Alfanza, 30, sacrificed his life to bring an end to the decades-long insurgency problem in Panay Island.

On the other hand, the three NPA rebels, who are remnants of the Central Negros 1 guerilla front and South East Front of the Komiteng Rehiyonal Negros/Cebu/Bohol/Siquijor, have been identified.

Lt. Col. J Jay Javines, 3ID Civil Military Operations officer, identified the two NPA rebel remnants killed in an encounter with 62nd Infantry Battalion on Jan. 17 in Brgy. Sag ang, La Castellana, as Dionesio Baloy, 67, of Brgy. Linantuyan, and Bernard Torres Sr., 56, of Brgy. Buenavista, all in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental.

In a statement, the NPA Apolinario Gatmaitan Command disowned Torres and Baloy as their members, insisting that there was no encounter in La Castellana.

The encounter in Brgy. Sag-ang, La Castellana, as reported by the 62IB, yielded an AR15 assault rifle, a .45 caliber pistol, and a homemade 12-gauge shotgun, among other war materials and personal belongings.

Javines said the cadavers of Baloy and Borres were turned over to their respective families, as facilitated by the 62IB, La Castellana municipal government and the Guihulngan City Task Force ELCAC.

He also identified the slain rebel in the encounter on Jan. 19, in Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental, as Edmar Pat Solano, a remnant of the dismantled South East Front.

Soldiers of the 11th Infantry Battalion recovered an M16 assault rifle, three magazines of an AK 47 assault rifle, and M203 grenade launcher ammunition.*