Thursday, February 8, 2024

Philippines to boost military presence in islands facing Taiwan

From Rappler (Feb 7, 2024): Philippines to boost military presence in islands facing Taiwan (REUTERS)

The Bashi Channel between those islands and Taiwan is considered a choke point for vessels moving between the western Pacific and the contested South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine defense chief has ordered the military to boost the number of troops stationed at the northernmost islands near Taiwan to fortify Manila’s territorial defense capabilities.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro also called for the development of more structures on the remote Batanes islands, less than 200 km (125 miles) from Taiwan, during his visit to naval facilities there on Tuesday, February 6, the Philippine navy said.

“Starting 2024, the operational tempo for the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) will be higher,” Teodoro said, according to a Philippine navy statement issued late Tuesday.

The Bashi Channel between those islands and Taiwan is considered a choke point for vessels moving between the western Pacific and the contested South China Sea. The Chinese military regularly sends ships and aircraft through the channel, Taiwan’s defense ministry has said.

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US military in talks to develop port in Philippines facing Taiwan

US military involvement in the proposed port in the Batanes islands, less than 200 km from Taiwan, could stoke tensions at a time of growing friction with China and a drive by Washington to intensify its longstanding defense treaty engagement with the Philippines.

In November, the militaries of the Philippines and the United States launched joint patrols off the waters of the Philippines’ northernmost point.

Batanes is the “spearhead of the Philippines as far as the northern baseline is concerned,” said Teodoro, who was accompanied by the AFP and Navy chiefs during his visit.

Teodoro’s visit “signifies a pivotal moment in our nation’s commitment to territorial defence and national security,” the Philippine navy said.

Reuters reported in August that the US military was in talks to develop a civilian port in Batanes, a move that would boost American access to strategically located islands facing Taiwan.

The Philippines in 2023 almost doubled the number of its military bases that US forces can access, including three facing Taiwan. China, which claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has said those moves were “stoking the fire” of regional tensions.

Batanes served as one of the training sites during last year’s joint military exercises, known as Balikatan, which involved more than 17,000 Filipino and American troops, making it the biggest ever edition of the annual military drills. –

2 Army battalions in Iloilo get new commanders

Posted to Panay News (Feb 7, 2024): 2 Army battalions in Iloilo get new commanders (By Ruby P. Silubrico)

ILOILO City – The two infantry battalions under the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) in Iloilo province have new commanders.

Lieutenant Colonel Joebert Pimentel was formally installed as the new commander of the 82nd Infantry Battalion (IB) based in Janiuay town during a turnover ceremony spearheaded by 3ID commander Major General Marion Sison on Monday, Feb. 5.

Pimentel replaced Lieutenant Colonel Clifford Catubigan who will be temporarily detailed at the 3ID headquarters as among the staff members.

On Tuesday, Feb. 6, Lieutenant Colonel Vicel Jan Garsuta assumed post as the new commander of the 12th IB based in Calinog town.

Outgoing 12IB commander Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Timbal will transfer to the Philippine Army headquarters in Manila.

Sison said the replacement of two battalion commanders was a usual position routine to give other officers the chance to spearhead the battalion.

“With the deployment of infantry battalions, we will endeavor to dismantle the two remaining guerilla fronts in Panay particularly in Iloilo. I trust my men in neutralizing rebels in their area through offensive operations or convince them to surrender peacefully, ” Sison added.

The 3ID commander ordered Garsuta to work closely with the local government units (LGUs) and all partners and stakeholders to facilitate the dismantling of the remaining weakened guerilla fronts in Panay Island.

“I have high expectations from Garsuta and I trust him to dismantle the weakened Central Panay Front. In order to do this, he will coordinate with the LGUs, private entities, and religious and business sectors,” Sison said.

The guerilla ‘s Central Front Committee is under the areas of coverage of the 12IB and 82IB.

Rebel suspect nabbed in Himamaylan

Posted to Panay News (Feb 8, 2024): Rebel suspect nabbed in Himamaylan

BACOLOD City – Facing seven counts of frustrated murder, a wanted the New People’s Army (NPA) rebel suspect was arrested in Barangay Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

The 47-year-old
Elmer Quillano, also known by aliases “Digoy” and “Onie,” a resident of the said village, was caught by joint operatives of the Himamaylan City police and the Philippine Army’s 94th Infantry Battalion (94IB) through a warrant of arrest issued by Judge Walter Zorilla of the Regional Trial Court – Branch 55 in Himamaylan City.

Quillano was detained at the Himamaylan City Police Station.

Police said the court recommended a bail bond of P200,000 for each count of frustrated murder.

Based on information released by the 94IB, Quillano served as the finance and logistic officer and ordnance of the Sentro de Grabidad (SDG) Platoon of the dismantled Central Negros 2 (CN2), Komiteng Rehiyon-Negros Cebu Bohol Siquijor (KR-NCBS).

He is also the brother of SDG platoon leader Elber Quillano, who was killed along with his wife Jessa in an encounter with the troops of 94IB in April 2022.

Following Quillano’s arrest, the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) said they are close to their goal of liberating Negros Island from the influence of the communist insurgents.

Major General Marion Sison, 3ID commander, said the series of neutralizations of the remnants of the dismantled guerilla fronts of the NPA in Negros through their law enforcement operations manifested the strong inter-agency coordination and collaboration between the Army and its counterparts in the Philippine National Police. (Watchmen Daily Journal)/PN

NPA logistics officer nabbed, faces frustrated murder charges

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 8, 2024): NPA logistics officer nabbed, faces frustrated murder charges (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

Arrested NPA logistic officer Elmer Quillano.* 3ID photo

An alleged finance and logistics officer of the New People’s Army, who is facing a string of frustrated murder charges, was arrested on Tuesday in Brgy. Buenavista, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, as a result of a joint law enforcement and support operation conducted by the local police and 94th Infantry Battalion soldiers.

Nabbed by virtue of an arrest warrant issued by Himamaylan Regional Trial Court Judge Walter Zorilla, for seven counts of frustrated murder, was
Elmer Quillano, with aliases of Digoy and Onie, who also serves as a finance, logistic, and ordnance officer of the dismantled Central Negros Sentro De Grabidad platoon.

Judge Zorilla recommended P200,000 bail for each of the frustrated murder charges.

Lt. Col. J Jay Javines, Civil Military Operations officer of the 3rd Infantry Division, disclosed that Quillano is the brother Elbert Quillano, leader of the dismantled CN2 Sentro De Grabidad platoon, who along with his wife, Jessa, were killed in an encounter with 94IB troopers last year, in Sitio Alolong, Brgy. Buenavista, Himamaylan City.

Last month, Army soldiers and policemen also arrested Rey Vincies de Leon, alias Art, another remnant of dismantled CN 2 guerilla front in Himamaylan City, also for the crime of frustrated murder.*

EastMinCom: AFP chief’s visit unrelated to Task Force Davao disbandment claims

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 6, 2024): EastMinCom: AFP chief’s visit unrelated to Task Force Davao disbandment claims (By RHODA GRACE SARON)

ARMED Force of the Philippines Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner Jr. reminded soldiers to be loyal to their oaths upon his visit to the Eastern Mindanao Command and Western Mindanao Command last Saturday, Feb. 3.

“I am not worried because I know the new breed of soldiers are professionals. Let us remain united and loyal to the Constitution and the Chain of command,” General Brawner Jr. said.

“Focus lang tayo sa trabaho natin. Isa lang ang ating Pilipinas, Isa lang ang ating bansa (Let’s focus on our work. We only have one country). Let us be proud of our heritage, let’s be proud of who we are as people,” he added.

Meanwhile, in a statement, the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) clarified the visit of Brawner was dedicated to checking on the humanitarian response in the flood-affected communities and the security campaign against communist terrorists under its area of control.

Earlier, former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque revealed in a Facebook Live that the Marcos administration planned to clip the wings of the Dutertes by disbanding the Task Force Davao.

The unit, which has been responsible for the checkpoints and foot patrols, along with the police, has been a deterrent to terrorism since it was established in Davao City in 2003.

The EastMinCom statement emphasized that Task Force Davao gives Joint Task Force Haribon a significant edge in its counter-terrorism efforts, especially in maintaining security in Davao City, the economic hub of Mindanao.

Roque hinted that the administration is wary of the unit’s loyalty to former President Rodrigo Duterte and his children, Vice President Sara Duterte, Mayor Sebastian Duterte, and Congressman Paolo Duterte.

“Nakakalap ako ng balita na idi-disband daw ang Task Force Davao na may 700 na sundalo na pinoprotektahan ang Davao sa banta ng terorismo (I received information that they will disband Task Force Davao with its 700 soldiers who protect Davao City against terror threats),” Roque said.

But in an interview on Monday, 10th Infantry Division spokesperson Major Mark Anthony Tito said there was no order to disband the unit.

“Wala man order na buwagon ang TF Davao. Wala man na siya nahisgutan (There was no order to demobilize the TF Davao. It wasn’t talked about),” Tito said.

Meanwhile, TIMES is still waiting on the statement of TF Davao commander Col Darren Comia on the matter.

The TFD was established on April 16, 2003, after the terror attacks on the Sasa Airport and Sasa Wharf. Its headquarters is located at the Sta. Ana Wharf in Barangay Leon Garcia.

House committed to ‘modern, well-equipped, cared-for’ AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 8, 2024): House committed to ‘modern, well-equipped, cared-for’ AFP (By Jose Cielito Reganit)

STRONG MILITARY. Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez (3rd from left) salutes Philippine Army troops during his arrival at Camp Evangelista in Cagayan De Oro City on Wednesday (Feb. 7, 2024). Romualdez assured that the House of Representatives is committed to a strong, modern, well-equipped and well-cared for military establishment that would defend the country from internal and external threats. (Photo courtesy of Speaker’s office)

MANILA – The House of Representatives is committed to a “strong, modern, well-equipped” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that would defend the country from internal and external threats, Speaker Martin Romualdez said on Wednesday.

Romualdez made the assurance during the Mindanao leg of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-House of Representatives fellowship held at the 4th Infantry Division headquarters in Cagayan de Oro City.

“Consistent with the vision of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., the House is committed to a strong, modern, well-equipped military establishment,” he told AFP officers led by Chief of Staff Romeo Brawner.

Romualdez noted that Congress has significantly increased the budget for defense for this year to PHP285 billion, which includes the realignment of PHP1.23 billion “for front-liners to maintain a credible posture in defending our rights, particularly in the West Philippine Sea.”

He said the legislature, notably the House, has also reallocated funds, including PHP300 million to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, PHP100 million to the National Security Council and PHP381.3 million to the Department of Transportation for the expansion of the airport in Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea.

“Our dedication extends beyond financial support. Recognizing the importance of high morale, we passed House Bill 8969, creating a sustainable fiscal framework for military pensions. This, along with various initiatives demonstrates our commitment to enhancing our military's capabilities and welfare,” he said.

He added that by taking these measures, Congress is “ensuring a robust defense posture, bolstering our land, air, and naval forces, and supporting peacekeeping missions.”

“These actions reflect our unwavering commitment to national security, territorial integrity, and the well-being of our soldiers. The true strength of our defense lies not just in our modernized assets but in the valor of our personnel,” Romualdez said.

He likewise pointed out that Congress has also taken steps to improve the lives of soldiers and their families.

Such steps include increasing the soldiers’ base pay, expanding healthcare benefits, and initiating new housing and educational programs, and the approval of the MUP (Military and Uniformed Personnel) Pension System Act, which would ensure the financial stability and well-being of uniformed personnel, he said.

“Our collective efforts symbolize a strong, well-equipped, and cared-for military, ready to uphold our sovereignty with honor and integrity. Let us continue to work together for a free, united, peaceful, and progressive Philippines,” Romualdez said.

Meanwhile, Romualdez commended the military for its “professionalism and dedication” to duty.

“The steadfastness of our uniformed personnel, in protecting our territorial integrity and remaining non-partisan amidst political noise, is truly commendable. Your unwavering duty as sentinels of our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea and beyond is a stabilizing force for our nation.”

He also thanked Brawner and organizers of the HOR-AFP fellowships, as well as his House colleagues and other military officers for participating in such events.

“Such gatherings are crucial for fostering civility, courtesy, and deeper personal connections, which are essential in understanding each other better,” he said.

Asymmetric strategy 'more effective' in defending PH waters

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 8, 2024): Asymmetric strategy 'more effective' in defending PH waters (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Philippine Fleet deputy commander Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad (PNA file photo by Priam F. Nepomuceno)

MANILA – A ranking official of the Philippine Navy sees the "asymmetric approach" as cheaper, faster and more effective strategy in defending the country's waters.

The Navy's Philippine Fleet deputy commander Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad defines "asymmetric approach" as matching one's strength against the weakness of the opponent.

The strategy will have the Philippines securing key approaches like Balintang Channel, Verde Island Passage, San Bernardino Strait, Sibutu Strait, Sulu Sea and Surigao Strait against a potential enemy using newly acquired high-speed fast attack interdiction crafts and other similar-sized vessels in its inventory.

This approach will have the country fielding its agile and speedy assets against larger opponents in what is termed as restricted waters, Trinidad said.

"We don't have to meet them in the open sea," he said in an interview Wednesday.

He said the strategy does not involve matching ship-for-ship and plane-for-plane to the prospective opponent.

"Pag sinabing (when you say) asymmetric, you have your strengths to be able to match its weakness," Trinidad said.

Trinidad cited as example the various "small and highly capable" Special Forces units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In the maritime domain, Trinidad said "asymmetric capabilities" include the use of unmanned systems like drones, drone swarming and sea control through the use of mines.

Having served in the Navy's Naval Special Operation Group, Trinidad said he preferred the "asymmetric approach" as it is cheaper, faster, easier to train people, and more effective against a larger enemy.

He said the equipment for this purpose is "tactically defensive but has a strike capability".

PBBM: Call for Mindanao separation ‘grave violation of Constitution’

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 8, 2024): PBBM: Call for Mindanao separation ‘grave violation of Constitution’ (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

(File photo)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Thursday opposed the call to separate Mindanao from the Philippines, saying it is a “grave violation of the Constitution.”

“The new call for a separate Mindanao is doomed to fail, for it is anchored on a false premise, not to mention a sheer constitutional travesty,” Marcos said in a speech during the commemoration of the Constitution Day at the Makati Shangri La.

“I strongly appeal to all concerned to stop this call for a separate Mindanao. It is a grave violation of the Constitution,” he added.

As the country’s president, Marcos said it is his sworn duty to preserve and defend the Constitution.

He said he rejects the secession of Mindanao because the Constitution calls for a “united [and] undivided country.”

He added that even the political leaders from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and other parts of Mindanao are opposed to the idea of separating the region from the entire country.

“This is because there can be, as in fact there is already, genuine and effective local autonomy throughout our country, especially in the BARMM, without compromising our national integrity in the slightest degree,” Marcos said.

“Hindi ito ang 'Bagong Pilipinas' na ating hinuhubog. Bagkus, ito ay pag-wasak mismo sa ating bansang Pilipinas (This is not the New Philippines we are building. Rather, it is the destruction of our country, the Philippines).”

Marcos said he is committed to protecting the national territory, and emphasized that a “divided public cannot prosper.”

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Our national territory will not be diminished, even by one square inch. We will continue to defend from any threats, external and internal. We will not allow even an iota of suggestion of its breaking apart,” he said.

“It was unity that made us rise from pandemic challenges and under the banner of the rule of law, the supremacy of the Constitution, our unity, both of our people and our territorial domain will continue to fuel our ascent and the further pursuit of our collective goals and aspirations as a nation,” Marcos added.

Marcos’ predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte, earlier raised the idea of having a separate and independent Mindanao.

Farmers in ex-Maguindanao war zone earn double under Bagong Pilipinas

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6, 2024): Farmers in ex-Maguindanao war zone earn double under Bagong Pilipinas (By Edwin Fernandez)

File photo of a farmer planting rice seedlings in Maguindanao (Photo courtesy of Bangsamoro Information Office)

COTABATO CITY – Mamasapano town, a former war zone in Maguindanao del Sur is being transformed into a rice zone, with farmers in the area earning double for selling palay or unhusked rice, a regional lawmaker said Tuesday.

“In Bagong Pilipinas of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., a small farmers’ cooperative Al-Rahman Farmers MPC FARM, embarked on a very humble effort to support the President’s food security program,” Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) member Suharto Ambolodto said in a statement.

BTA is the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) provisional lawmaking body.

The farmers’ group effort, he said, is being supported by the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade and the 6th Civil-Military Battalion, both under the 6th Infantry Division in Central Mindanao.

“Farmers in Mamasapano are now earning double for selling palay or unhusked rice, raising the hope to turn the municipality from a war zone to a rice zone under Bagong Pilipinas,” Ambolodto said, referring to the erstwhile conflict-affected areas collectively known as the SPMS box (Shariff Aguak, Pagatin (Datu Saudi), Mamasapano and Datu Salibo).

The village of Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town was the site of the bloody encounter between the police’s elite Special Action Force and Moro extremists on Jan. 25, 2015.

Top rice producer

Barely nine years after the tragic incident, however, the town has blossomed into one of the top rice-producing towns in the province, with rice farmers now selling more than PHP22 per kilogram for palay, double the usual price of PHP13 per kilo.

"Farmers in Mamasapano used to earn only PHP65,000 per hectare at PHP13 per kilogram and 5 metric tons (MT). Now at PHP22 per kilogram and 11.3 MT, one hectare can earn PHP248,000 or a PHP183,000 improvement," Ambolodto said.

He further noted that Mamasapano farmers surpassed in September last year the 2025 Department of Agriculture's palay harvest target of 5 MT per hectare by harvesting 86 percent more at 9.3 MT per hectare.

The productive harvests meant local farmer cooperatives could now sell rice at a lower price to their members, Ambolodto said, citing the case of the Al-Rahman Cooperative which sells its rice for PHP39 per kilo.

Meanwhile, Kagui Mustapha, 60, a farmer in Tukanalipao, said the assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Agrarian Reform (MAFAR) has also helped them improve their rice productivity.

“MAFAR and BARMM have provided us with post-harvest facilities like solar dryers, improved roads leading to the market center, and increased our output,” he said in the vernacular, adding that the prevailing general peace and order situation has greatly improved.

Under the current administration, the Philippines reaped its biggest harvest of 20 million metric tons of palay in 2023, putting the Chief Executive’s agenda to achieve a robust Filipino agriculture sector front and center.

The President’s direction toward stronger Filipino rice production also allowed the government to reduce rice imports by 300,000 metric tons.

Unity, transformation

Earlier, the BARMM government had supported President Marcos and his Bagong Pilipinas campaign for unity and transformation.

In a separate statement, the Chief Minister of BARMM, Ahod Ebrahim, has expressed his firm commitment to adhering to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) provisions that recognize the legitimacy and fairness of the Bangsamoro cause and aspirations towards their right to self-determination.

“We, therefore, urge everyone to help protect the gains of the peace process, let us continue to support the current administration and allow peace and civility to reign over the affairs of our land,” Ebrahim, also the figurehead of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said.

Under Bagong Pilipinas, BARMM leaders also affirmed that most of the region is becoming more peaceful, drastically reducing the threat of violent extremism.

New army commanders told to finish insurgency in Panay

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 7, 2024): New army commanders told to finish insurgency in Panay (By Perla Lena)

NEW COMMANDER. 3rd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Marion R. Sison (left) presents the battalion's flag to Lt. Col. Jovert Pimentel during the latter’s installation as new commander of the 82nd Infantry Battalion (82IB) in a ceremony held in Camp Col. Quintin D. Salas in Barangay Jibolo, Janiuay town, Iloilo province on Monday (Feb. 5, 2024). Sison has ordered Pimentel and Lt. Col. Vicel Jan Garsuta, new commander of the 12IB who assumed office on Feb. 6, to finish the insurgency problem in Panay. (Photo courtesy of 3DPAO)

ILOILO CITY – Newly installed battalion commanders of the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) of the Philippine Army have received marching orders to finish the insurgency in Panay.

In a press release Wednesday, 3ID commander, Maj. Gen. Marion R. Sison, said he has directed Lt. Col. Jovert Pimentel, new commander of the 82nd Infantry Battalion (82IB) who assumed office on Monday, and Lt. Col. Vicel Jan Garsuta, new commander of the 12IB who assumed office on Tuesday, to work closely with local government units (LGUs) and stakeholders to dismantle the remaining guerrilla fronts in Panay Island.

“It is crucial to coordinate, cooperate, and maintain open communication with our partners, as they play a vital role in helping us bring an end to the insurgency in Panay,” Sison said.

Describing Panay as a “sleeping dragon and the remaining bastion of the communist terrorist group,” he said, “It is essential to recognize that the resolution of this problem requires not only military action but also the effective implementation of Task Force ELCAC (End Local Communist Armed Conflict) as the best solution."

“Finish the fight! That's my first order. Lick the enemy, totally decimate and eradicate them, in coordination with the LGUs, civil society organizations, the private, religious, and the business sectors, to establish just and lasting peace in Panay,” Sison said.