Sunday, February 4, 2024

China says Philippine vessel ‘illegally’ landed on disputed atoll

From Rappler (Feb 3, 2024): China says Philippine vessel ‘illegally’ landed on disputed atoll (By REUTERS)

The vessel, which landed on the Spratly Islands atoll on Friday, February 2, was there for supply purposes

SHANGHAI, China – China said on Saturday, February 3, a small civilian vessel from the Philippines had “illegally placed itself on the beach” of an atoll in the South China Sea that both countries claim.

The vessel, which landed on the Spratly Islands atoll on Friday, February 2, was there for supply purposes, the China Coast Guard posted on the Weixin platform.

The Philippines has stationed a small number of troops on a World War Two ship it grounded in 1999 as an outpost to reinforce its sovereignty claim over the Second Thomas Shoal, known as Ayungin in the Philippines and the Renai Reef in China.

Manila refused Beijing’s requests last year to tow the vessel away in the row that has soured relations between the two Asian nations.

Other Stories

Vietnam, Philippines seal deals on South China Sea security

(1st UPDATE) The two memoranda of understanding on security covered 'incident prevention in the South China Sea' and 'maritime cooperation' among Vietnamese and Philippine coastguards, according to a Vietnamese official announcing the deals

Philippines plans to buy submarines to defend sovereignty in South China Sea – senior official

Roy Trinidad,, Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, says the third phase of modernization reflects a shift in strategy away from internal to external defense

In Marcos’ Hanoi visit, South China Sea issues take the spotlight

The two countries share similar concerns as China asserts its claims more aggresively in the South China Sea

China asserts sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, including areas claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 China’s claims had no legal basis. –

Philippines says China ‘imagining’ special arrangement in Ayungin

Stable Internal Peace and Security’ declaration mulled for Negros Island

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 3, 2024): Stable Internal Peace and Security’ declaration mulled for Negros Island (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

The Army’s 3rd Infantry Division is eyeing to recommend declaring Negros Island in a state of “Stable Internal Peace and Security,” by the end of the first quarter.

The 3ID earlier declared having dismantled all five existing New People’s Army guerrilla fronts in Negros Island.

However, the focused military operations against remnants are still ongoing, to prevent them from recovering lost territories and the recruitment of new members, Lt. Col. J Jay Javines, 3ID spokesperson, disclosed earlier.

First to be declared dismantled by 3ID more than two years ago was the South East Front, followed by Northern Negros Front in 2022, and then the Central Negros 1 and 2 guerilla fronts, as well as South West Front in 2023.

In a statement, Maj. Gen. Marion Sison, 3ID commander, said the series of surrenders in Negros Island since the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in December 2018, is a testament to the government’s efficiency in addressing the root causes of insurgency.

“The series of surrenders by both CTG top cadres and members in Negros strongly manifests that the collaborative efforts of various government instrumentalities and the strong support of civil society organizations are effective in resolving the root causes of the insurgency problem,” Sison added.

If we can maintain this trend and with the commitment and cooperation of our partners and stakeholders, we can already recommend the declaration of Negros Island in a state of “Stable Internal Peace and Security’ by the end of this quarter,” he further said.

Two rebel remnants died, while another one surrendered, following a recent encounter in La Castellena, which led to the recovery of six high powered firearms, as well as explosives.

Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo, commander of the AFP Visayas Command, disclosed that the devastating blows delivered by Army units to the CPP NPA “is a manifestation of how serious we are in sustaining our gains and in preventing the CPP-NPA from recovering their loss mass bases in the Visayas region.”

“Our mission is definitely not over. Though we made significant progress in our campaign in the previous year, still there are issues in the community that we must address and remnants of the CPP-NPA lurking in the hinterlands that we need to neutralize. If these are not addressed, these could cause a resurgence of the terrorist group here in the region,” Arevalo added.*

VISCOM continues to weaken NPA remnants

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 5, 2024): VISCOM continues to weaken NPA remnants (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

Geared towards pursuing the New People’s Army remnants in the Visayas after clearing all rebel-infested communities in the region last year, the Visayas Command (VISCOM) claimed to continue delivering crushing blows to the terrorist group since last month.

“We may have cleared all NPA-infested communities in the Visayas and dismantled all its mass bases in the region, but still we can’t afford to be complacent,” disclosed VISCOM chief Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo.

In a statement, Arevalo stressed that there are still remnants of the NPA terrorists that they should still pursue, as they remain to be a threat to peace and stability in the region, and are still capable of sowing fear and terror to the people.

VISCOM said it conducted 20 focused military operations last month, resulting in 10 government initiated encounters, a 50 percent hit factor in the campaign against the CPP-NPA, which it attributed to the active support of the people.

During that period, VISCOM said it neutralized 13 NPA rebels, of which five died in encounters, five surrendered, while three others were arrested. It also resulted in the confiscation of 14 firearms.

As for the CPP- NPA remnants, Arevalo urged them to choose the path of peace, while they still can.*

Brawner visits 10ID to boost morale of troops

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 4, 2024): Brawner visits 10ID to boost morale of troops (By RHODA GRACE SARON)

AFP CHIEF of Staff Romeo S Brawner Jr. commended the 10th Infantry (Agila) Division for its extraordinary mission accomplishments, including humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) operations in Southeastern Mindanao.

Brawner visited the 10ID headquarters in Camp General Manuel T. Yan Sr. in Mawab, Davao De Oro, on Saturday, Feb.3

During the briefing, Colonel Arvin M. Tenorio, 10ID assistant chief of staff for operations (G3), said they successfully maintained an insurgency-free Davao Region for one year, three months, and counting. He added that 10ID conducted 345 HADR activities, assisting almost 130,000 individuals.

In his message, Brawner commended the Agila troopers, led by Major General Allan D. Hambala, for their bravery and commitment to maintaining security in the region. He also reiterated the importance of a united effort to ensure the safety and prosperity of the Filipino people.

“Sa 10ID, we have been the model. Modelo tayo sa kampanya against the Red Area o yung mga armadong grupo ng CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front). In fact, ito yung unang area kung saan natin nadeklara na talagang tapos na, insurgency-free yung buong region),” Brawner added.

In his talk to troops, Brawner underscored the significance of professionalism, emphasizing that soldiers should remain committed to their duty and carry the motto of “One AFP, One Philippines.”

He stressed the importance of unity and collaboration among the different branches of the military to address national concerns effectively.

“I hope that you will continue the good works that you are doing. Ituloy lang natin yung pagiging professional natin at ang pagiging isang Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he added.

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 3, 2024): DICT foils cyberattack vs. PCG, presidential admin emails (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

CYBERATTACK THWARTED. Department of Information and Communications Technology Undersecretary Jeff Ian Dy reports about the recent cyber attacks in the country, during a news forum in Quezon City on Saturday (Feb. 3, 2024). Dy assured the public that the threat had already been “mitigated” after receiving an official report two weeks ago. (PNA photo by Robert Alfiler)

MANILA – The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has foiled a recent cyberattack that targeted various government email addresses, including that of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the private website of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

At the Saturday News Forum, DICT Undersecretary Jeff Ian Dy said an investigation is ongoing but the threat had been “mitigated” after receiving an official report two weeks ago.

Dy said the DICT and Google believe at least three “advanced threat groups” were behind the attack, which he said could also be classified as “cyber espionage” as the motivation was to “gather information.”

“Itong klase ng ganitong atake, ang ginagawa lang po nito ay magmanman. Hindi naman po niya nakita iyong ating mga emails, nadepensahan naman natin although iniimbestigahan pa rin natin ngayon (In this kind of attack, all they do is observe. They were not able to see the emails because we were able to defend it but we are still conducting a probe),” he said.

“Actually ang ginagawa niya, kapag nakita niya na iyong, nandudoon lang siya, hindi niya pinakikialaman. So, ang target po talaga niya ay government emails and websites (What they do is once they see, they just stay put, they do not meddle with it. So, their targets really were the government emails and websites).”

Dy said the target were government Google Workspaces, specifically the domain administrators of the Cabinet Secretary, the Department of Justice, the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department of the Congress, the National Coast Watch System, and the DICT.

The hacking attempt, he said, was first reported by Google two weeks ago.

Also last month, the DICT was able to thwart the attempted hacking of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s (OWWA) web applications.

Dy said this attack happened about three weeks ago and had a different perpetrator whom the DICT traced to be operating in China.

“We were able to detect that the attackers were coming from China Unicom. So, I think we will need to coordinate with them so that they can help us in this investigation,” he said.

China Unicom is a Chinese state-owned telecommunications operator.

Dy, however, clarified that the DICT is not accusing China of involvement, only that it found out that the “threat actors were operating from within Chinese territory.”

PH in EU confab: Push for peace amid rising aggression in Indo-Pacific

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 3, 2024): PH in EU confab: Push for peace amid rising aggression in Indo-Pacific (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo (PNA file photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA – Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo has sought stronger collaboration among nations to ensure that the Indo-Pacific remains on the path of peace, as he cited the rising militarization and pattern of aggression in the region, including over the South China Sea.

"If Indo-Pacific is to remain as an engine of global growth and human flourishing, especially in the midst of global uncertainties we face and sharpening geopolitical conflicts, we need to firstly keep to the path of peace and secondly build resilience," he said at the 3rd EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum in Brussels.

In the South China Sea alone, Manalo said, aggressive actions have violated the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, and the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Similarly, he said, heightened tensions in the East China Sea, the Korean Peninsula, and the Taiwan Straits "shake the stable security regime that has for decades underpinned the vitality of our region as an economic force."

Reiterating the Philippines' position, Manalo said countries should push for a rules-based order that "guarantees equity and stability in the global commons."

He also emphasized that the future of the region is not shaped by one or two powers but by many actors, including ASEAN countries and Pacific island states.

Meanwhile, he noted that "over-characterizing" developments in the region as a function of the US-China strategic rivalry risks harming the interest of other smaller nations like the Philippines.

"For one, it puts the distinct and legitimate rights and interests of countries, such as the Philippines, aside and secondary to the interests of the rivals," he said.

"It also obscures our judgment: actions that are clearly illegal in international law and against the UN Charter are sometimes justified under the pretext of this rivalry. At the same time, remedies to respond to these actions are viewed by a party in the prism of this strategic rivalry."

The 3rd EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum was held on Feb. 2, bringing together about 70 participants from the EU institutions and EU member states, Indo-Pacific countries, and several regional organizations.

NTF-ELCAC chief rejects call to scrap ‘relevant’ task force

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 3, 2024): NTF-ELCAC chief rejects call to scrap ‘relevant’ task force

National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC)

MANILA – The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) remains relevant in the ongoing peace efforts of the Philippine government, its executive director Undersecretary Ernesto Torres Jr. said Saturday.

Torres was responding to United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Freedom of Expression Irene Khan’s call for the abolition of NTF-ELCAC, which she claimed is outdated and “does not take into account the ongoing prospects for peace negotiations.”

He said the NTF-ELCAC felt “betrayed” by Khan’s recommendation and believed the UN expert ”failed to comprehend the government's established and institutionalized mechanisms for anti-terrorism and peace efforts.”

During her 10-day intensive visit to the country, Khan met with several stakeholders and government officials, including those from the NTF-ELCAC.

“We strongly reject UNSR Irene Khan's call for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC. We take offense in her pronouncements against the Philippine government and the NTF-ELCAC,” Torres said in a statement.

Khan sought the termination of the task force during her exit conference on Feb. 2.

Torres argued that NTF-ELCAC “remains as the single most relevant task force in the Philippines” in addressing local communist armed conflict.

“We will not allow any outsider to dictate us how to fight our wars and to dictate upon us the means to win the peace for our people. We have managed to succeed in our fight against insurgency and terrorism as a nation and as a people,” he said.

“This is something that cannot be hijacked nor be undermined by anyone. The NTF-ELCAC will continue to work for peace, unity, and development within the framework of justice and the rule of law.”

The task force was created through Executive Order 70 issued by former president Rodrigo Duterte on Dec. 4, 2018.

Its objective is to respond and raise awareness of the ongoing communist rebellion in the country.

Año: Gov’t to use ‘resolute’ force to quell attempts to divide PH

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4, 2024): Año: Gov’t to use ‘resolute’ force to quell attempts to divide PH (By Priam Nepomuceno)

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año (PNA file photo)

MANILA – National Security Adviser Eduardo Año emphasized on Sunday that the government will do everything to prevent any attempt to dismember the country.

“Any attempt to secede any part of the Philippines will be met by the government with resolute force," Año said in a statement as he rejected the idea to separate Mindanao from the rest of the Philippines.

The government, he said, would remain steadfast in securing the sovereignty and integrity of the national territory.

"The National Government will not hesitate to use its authority and forces to quell and stop any and all attempts to dismember the Republic,” Año, also the chief of the National Security Council (NSC), added.

He also urged the public to remain vigilant against those who would attempt to sow discord, which, he added, would undermine the country’s hard-won gains in pursuing peace and development, particularly in Mindanao.

"The strength of our country lies in our unity and any attempt to sow division must be rejected by all sectors unequivocally. It is imperative for all Filipinos to uphold the principles enshrined in our Constitution which espouses the unity and territorial integrity of our nation," Año said.

Many local Mindanao leaders have already expressed opposition to the call made by former President Rodrigo Duterte to separate Mindanao from the rest of the country.

"While recognizing the richness of Mindanao's natural resources and culture, it is essential to approach discussions about its development and autonomy within the framework of national unity, solidarity, and supremacy of the Constitution,” he said.

He also maintained that the comprehensive peace process, which led to the end of decades of armed conflict in Mindanao, must be safeguarded at all times as "the dividends of peace are now clearly evident in the transformation of the entire Mindanao from a region of volatility and violence to one of progress, stability, hope."

Earlier, Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said that secession is not the solution to Mindanao’s problems, as he urged all stakeholders to uphold the sanctity of the Philippine Constitution for a strong, united, and undivided nation.

“Secession is not the answer to Mindanao’s concerns. It would violate the fundamental tenets of our Constitution. It would destroy the territorial integrity of the Philippines, and disrupt decades of painstaking effort to build a stronger union among all our peoples and ethnicities,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

Abalos said the people’s right to self-determination, which means pursuing political, economic, social, and cultural development while respecting the state’s territorial integrity and legal processes should be exercised within the framework of the State.

“Indeed, the people of Mindanao have the freedom to make political choices or pursue economic, social, and cultural progress. Various mechanisms make manifest the government’s respect and recognition for the development needs of Mindanao, such as the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM),” he said.

Abalos said BARMM is a powerful example of addressing historical grievances and providing self-governance within the bounds of Philippine law. (With a report from Christopher Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)