Monday, February 26, 2024

A ‘re-horizoned’ AFP modernization program: What does it mean?

Posted to the BusinessWorld (Feb 27, 2024): A ‘re-horizoned’ AFP modernization program: What does it mean? (By Sherwin E. Ona)


LAST MONTH, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. approved the revised Horizon 3 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program (AFPMP). Dubbed as a “re-horizoned” iteration of the last phase of the AFPMP, it was also announced that it will have a price tag of P2 trillion ($35 billion) covering a 10-year period. However, details about this ambitious plan remain elusive.

For the uninitiated, the question is: “What does this mean?” It is possible that its significance is lost on ordinary Filipinos because of its ambiguity. Therefore, it is important to “connect the dots” and present a picture of what this new program entails. Existing policies, pronouncements by public officials, as well as reports from traditional and nontraditional sources can help us unpack the issue and offer a possible direction of the program.

To start, the National Security Policy (2023-2028) or NSP provides a general idea of the program’s direction. The NSP underscores the importance of preserving the country’s sovereignty and advancing its national interest. It also views the attainment of a credible defense posture as a crucial component of national security.

In addition, pronouncements by public officials give us a glimpse of how the program will be realized. For instance, statements from Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and AFP Chief General Romeo Brawner, Jr., declared that the revised program will allow the AFP to protect its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and secure the country’s economic interests. Secretary Teodoro also introduced the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept which underscored the importance of protecting the country’s natural resources and guarantee the unimpeded and peaceful exploration of these resources. He further stressed that violations of Philippine territorial integrity and sovereignty cannot be tolerated.

And then there are the traditional and non-traditional media. News reports combined with reliable social media sources present the specific weapons systems for the revised horizon. There are four prominent items that are discussed in these reports. These are:

a.) The acquisition of multi-role fighters (MRFs): Initially envisioned in the 1990s, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) MRF dream has yet to come to fruition. This platform can provide the PAF with combat aircraft that can adapt to multiple missions. It can be a traditional jet fighter/interceptor and capable of air interdiction (e.g., Maritime strike and ground attack) and air support roles. For this, the highly anticipated acquisition of 12 to 14 JAS-39 Gripens from Sweden can provide the PAF with this unprecedented capability. There are also reports that used F-16s are being considered. Although the exact number and airplane variant are still unknown, these aircraft are expected to complement the Gripens. Aside from the MRFs, there is also this idea of expanding the country’s current FA-50 fleet through the additional purchase of the upgraded block 20 model. It is said that this acquisition mix will allow the AFP to achieve its desired 36 to 40 combat aircraft threshold.

b.) Renewed interest in subsurface capability: In particular, this pertains to the planned acquisition of submarines by the Philippine Navy (PN). This report has received much fanfare lately since President Marcos himself has developed a keen interest in this matter. The PN is said to be eying two to three units, with France, Spain, and South Korea as the possible contenders for this project. In addition, the navy is also eyeing the expansion of its current fleet of anti-submarine warfare helicopters.

c.) Maritime Domain Awareness: Another significant facet of the revised horizon is the improvement of the country’s maritime domain awareness capability. This means that the 3rd horizon will prioritize the acquisition of land-based radar and airborne surveillance systems that can give the AFP the ability to monitor the country’s air and maritime spaces. Combined with the proposed subsurface capabilities, an integrated domain surveillance and intelligence platform can provide a 3D and 24/7 view of our territories.

d.) Acquisition of area denial/anti-access systems: The acquisition of the Brahmos cruise missile system from India provides the AFP with a significant stand-off (long range) capability against maritime and land targets. With a range of 290 km and a speed of Mach 3, this land-based system will allow us to hit targets well beyond our EEZ. Thus, this platform is a potent deterrent against naval aggression in the West Philippine Sea. Furthermore, it has been reported that the Philippine Army is planning to acquire the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) platform from the United States. This platform made its battlefield debut in Ukraine where it was used with stunning lethality against Russian frontline positions, command and control structures, as well as their logistics hubs.

If these reports are accurate, then how can we characterize the direction of this “re-horizoned” phase of the AFPMP? First, there is a strong emphasis on external defense. The previous intention of the program was to improve the country’s territorial defense and focus on restoring the AFP’s lost capabilities. However, this new phase goes beyond the earlier objectives by highlighting the importance of extending our military capabilities beyond our coastlines. For instance, having the ability to enforce the Philippine air defense identification zone combined with stand-off systems to defend our EEZ can give any aggressor something to worry about. Combined with the ability to monitor its maritime domain and airspace, this new horizon also adds a significant deterrence value.

Second, this new phase will also enable the Philippines to respond to contingencies. The potential flashpoints in the Taiwan straits and the West Philippine Sea are the obvious factors behind this shift. In addition, the new horizon can be viewed as part of the Marcos administration’s policy to strengthen its security alliances with United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, among others. Consequently, the completion of this horizon will provide the Philippines with capabilities that will allow its meaningful participation in joint military exercises in the region and even beyond.

Overall, this new direction for the 3rd horizon of the AFPMP, despite being modest, signifies the strong commitment of the Marcos administration to enhance the country’s defense posture. This will also allow for the enforcement of the country’s baseline and maritime laws. Furthermore, this new horizon recognizes the country’s crucial role in the stability of the Indo-Pacific region.

Finally, the new program can also open opportunities for collaboration especially in building the country’s defense industries. Agreements on technology transfer, in-country production, and professional exchanges can significantly contribute to national development.

[Sherwin E. Ona, PhD is an associate professor of the Department of Political Science and Development Studies at De La Salle University, Philippines. He is a senior fellow of the Philippine Public Safety College and the Stratbase-ADR Institute. At present, Dr. Ona is a visiting fellow of the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan.]

Philippine Army Embraces Digital Age with Online-Only Recruitment Process

Posted to BNN News (Feb 26, 2024): Philippine Army Embraces Digital Age with Online-Only Recruitment Process (By Hadeel Hashem)

Explore the Philippine Army's bold move to shift to a fully online recruitment process, aiming to enlist 5,000 new personnel in 2024. Learn about the benefits of this digital transition and the implications for future military recruitment.

Philippine Army Embraces Digital Age with Online-Only Recruitment Process

In an era where the digital transformation touches every aspect of our lives, the Philippine Army has made a significant leap into the future. In a bold move announced by Col. Louie Dema-ala, the traditional walk-in application process is now a thing of the past. As of this year, all aspirants looking to serve in the Philippine Army must navigate through a fully online application process. This strategic shift aims to streamline recruitment, targeting to enlist 5,000 new personnel in 2024, with the inaugural batch of online recruits starting their training on March 1.

Embracing the Future: The Online Transition

The transition to an online-only application system marks a pivotal change in the recruitment process of the Philippine Army. According to the official announcement, aspirants must now register through the Army's portal and await further instructions for the qualifying exam from the Army Personnel Management Center (APMC). This move not only modernizes the recruitment process but also makes it more accessible to individuals across the nation, breaking down geographical barriers that may have deterred potential applicants in the past.

A Streamlined Process with a Personal Touch

While the shift to a fully online application process may raise concerns about impersonality, the Philippine Army assures that this new system is designed with the applicant in mind. The online platform allows for a more organized and efficient handling of applications, ensuring that every aspirant receives timely feedback and instructions. Furthermore, by digitizing the process, the APMC can more effectively select candidates based on required skill sets, ensuring that the Army's needs are met with precision. This careful consideration and selection process underscores the Army's commitment to maintaining a high standard of recruitment, even within this new digital framework.

The Future of Recruitment: Opportunities and Challenges

As with any major transition, the move to an online-only recruitment process presents both opportunities and challenges. On one hand, it democratizes the application process, making it easier for individuals from all corners of the Philippines to apply. On the other hand, there are concerns about digital literacy and access to reliable internet, which could potentially exclude some candidates. However, by confronting these challenges head-on and seeking innovative solutions, the Philippine Army is positioning itself at the forefront of modernization, ready to welcome a new generation of digitally savvy soldiers.

In conclusion, the Philippine Army's transition to a fully online recruitment process is a significant step towards modernization and efficiency. By embracing the digital age, the Army not only streamlines its recruitment process but also opens the doors wider for Filipinos nationwide to serve their country. As this new system takes effect, it will be interesting to observe how it shapes the future of military recruitment in the Philippines and whether it sets a precedent for other branches of the armed forces to follow.

2 former rebels receive assistance and reintegrate in the community in Camarines Norte

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 26, 2024): 2 former rebels receive assistance and reintegrate in the community in Camarines Norte (By Rosalita Manlangit)

DAET, Camarines Norte – Two Former Rebels (FRs) “ Militia ng Bayan” received P15 Thousand financial assistance in Camarines Norte as part of the Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) of the government.

The cash assistance that was provided by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is under the administrative package of assistance of the agency.

One of the Former Rebel (FR) under “Militia ng Bayan”, Dennis Aroc alyas “Ka Boy” is 49 years old who unknowingly became involved in the New People's Army (NPA) when he was 11 years old. His grandfather then was a regular member of the group and he then served as messenger or runner.

“I surrendered because they did not give what they had promised and nothing good happened during my more than 30 years in the group”. Aroc said.

He also wanted to have a normal life for his family, especially his children who are studying.

Aroc has five children and is now residing in one of the resettlement areas in San Lorenzo Ruiz town.

Former Rebel Dennis Aroc (2nd from left) receives P15 Thousand financial assistance from Gov. Ricarte Padilla (3rd from left) and DILG Provincial Director Melody Relucio (1st from left) during the 1st Quarter Joint Council Meeting of Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC), Provincial Anti-Drug Abuse Council (PADAC), End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC) and E-CLIP.

Along with Aroc who surrendered and received cash assistance was his ally Edison Dialogo alyas “Ka Remsy”, 43 years old and 2 years as “Militia ng Bayan”.

Dialogo realized that he disagreed with the intention of his comrades and immediately left the terrorist group.

Aroc and Dialogo are both engaged in broom “tambo” making as their source income in San Lorenzo Ruiz.

Both of them had earlier received P9,700 financial assistance from the provincial government of Camarines Norte and P10,000 from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

They may also have the chance to undergo livelihood training of the Technical Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and may be provided with a starter kit of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in which both agencies have programs for FRs.

On the other hand, the Municipal Police Station (MPS) of San Lorenzo Ruiz received a cheque of P21 Thousand each for Aroc and Dialogo’s reintegration assistance they have provided.

The Provincial Social Welfare Office (PSWDO) recorded 32 FRs regular and “Militia ng Bayan” since 2015 who surrendered in the province of Camarines Norte, Editha B. Lee, Focal Person on Program for Former Rebels.

Majority of them were provided with the financial assistance while the latest surrender papers are still in process.

Aside from the financial assistance that were provided to FRs “Militia ng Bayan” Aroc and Dialogo, a regular FR can also receive P50 Thousand livelihood assistance from the government, she said.

Some of the FRs are residing in the camp of the Philippine Army (PA) where they underwent livelihood training provided by government agencies.

The PSWDO serves as Secretariat in the province of the E-CLIP program and works for the reintegration program of the FRs. PSWDO also provides counseling and stress debriefing training programs.

The E-CLIP is a government initiative that aims to provide a comprehensive package of benefits and assistance to FRs who have decided to return to the fold of the law.

Bohol PNP denies torture of 5 slain NPA rebels in Bilar

From the Bohol Chronicle(Feb 26, 2024): Bohol PNP denies torture of 5 slain NPA rebels in Bilar

The Bohol Police Provincial Office (BPPO) blasted allegations of a left-leaning lawyers’ group that the five members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who were killed during an encounter with government forces last Friday in Bilar town were “already captured but tortured” and “summarily executed.”

Bohol police spokesman Lt. Col. Norman Nuez struck down these allegations hurled by the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) as far from the truth.

“Our troops were supposed to serve warrants of arrest when they were fired upon by the rebel combatants which in fact led to the death of one of our operatives and the wounding of another. How was it possible that our government forces sustained the first casualty if the rebels had been captured beforehand?”

This was the reaction of Lt. Col. Nuez during an interview with dyRD’s Inyong Alagad Monday.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) earlier released an official statement saying that Domingo Compoc alias “Kumander Cobra”, lawyer Hannah Jay Cesista alias “Maya / Lean”, Parlito Segovia alias “Aldrin”, Marlon Omosura alias “Darwin”, and Alberto Sancho alias “Juaning”, were all captured alive and taken into custody by the joint military and police forces conducting the operations in Sitio Matinao Dos, Barangay Campagao, Bilar early morning Friday.

“There is no truth to the lie being circulated by the police that the five were killed in an encounter. Local residents attest that no encounter took place that morning,” the CPP claims.

According to the communist group, residents in the area of operations “witnessed the brutality of the military and police troops, torturing and killing” Compoc and companions.


The NUPL, the lawyers group of which Cesista belonged, has demanded an investigation saying the military-police operation committed violations to the International Humanitarian Law.

“The NUPL calls for an immediate inquiry into the brutal killings of five reported members of the New People’s Army.”

The lawyers’ group cited “raw accounts” from local residents that the five NPA members were captured near a residence where the police were serving an arrest warrant.

It also cited a photograph which was obtained by a human rights group showing Compoc alive and in the custody of state forces early morning Friday, and that this photo was posted on social media.

“The group also gathered that the NPA members were tortured and summarily executed with Cesista missing an eye and others displaying visible stab wounds. Social media posts presumably published by the police and military show a photo of Cesista’s muddied remains, in line with their dastardly practice of staging and desecrating the remains of enemy forces as trophies,” the NUPL statement added.

According to the Philippine Army, the joint police and military operations were legitimate.

“We deny their accusations,” said Army spokesman Col. Louie Dema-ala.

“We will not dignify their statement. If they think a massacre occurred there, we are open to any investigation,” Dema-ala stressed. (Kit Bagaipo)

NPA assassin tagged as Bicol's No. 2 fugitive surrenders

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27, 2024): NPA assassin tagged as Bicol's No. 2 fugitive surrenders (By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)

(Photo courtesy of CIDG)

MANILA – A top assassin of the communist New People's Army (NPA) surrendered to government forces, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) reported Tuesday.

In a statement, CIDG chief Maj. Gen. Romeo Caramat Jr. said the suspect
identified only as "Jose Maria" surrendered to the Philippine Army's 903rd Infantry Battalion in Barangay San Rafael, Castilla, Sorsogon on Feb. 23.

The CIDG then proceeded to the area and served the arrest warrant against the suspect, who is wanted for three counts of illegal possession of firearms by the Sorsogon City Regional Trial Courts Branches 52 and 54.

Caramat said "Jose Maria", also Bicol's top 2 most wanted person, serves as the commanding officer of the NPA's Special Partisan Unit (SPARU) Provincial Unit Guerilla (PYG) under its Bicol Regional Party Committee.

"Ang pagsuko ni “Jose Maria” ay isang patunay na epektibo ang kampanya ng ating gobyerno sa paghimok sa ating mga rebelde na magbalikloob at magtiwala sa mabuting hangarin ng pamahalaan (The surrender of "Jose Maria" is a proof that our government's campaign is effective in encouraging our rebels to return to the fold of the law and trust the government's good intentions," he added.

15K Reds surrender since 2022

In a separate statement, Philippine National Police chief General Benjamin Acorda Jr. said a total of 15,092 NPA members have surrendered to authorities from 2022 up to Jan. 31 this year.

These rebels also were also provided with various forms of assistance through the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

Acorda, meanwhile, said the government has also reaped gains in its campaign against terrorism following the recent surrender of Pablo Alic, a member of the Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute Group, and the arrest of terrorism financing facilitator Myrna Ajilul Mabanza.

“These accomplishments contribute to the diligent work of dismantling terrorist networks and disrupting the flow of funds that support acts of terror. These developments underscore the effectiveness of our resolute military operations in the fight against terrorism,” he added.

BARMM approves cash rewards for aging, ailing Moro Islamic Liberation Front , MNLF fighters

From Rappler (Feb 26, 2024): BARMM approves cash rewards for aging, ailing Moro Islamic Liberation Front , MNLF fighters (By FERDINANDH CABRERA)

Senior citizens and persons with disabilities, who once fought for the Moro causes, will each receive a lump sum benefit of P84,000 along with a monthly allowance of P7,000 from the BARMM

COTABATO, Philippines – Aging and ailing members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who bravely fought for their causes will soon receive substantial support from the Bangsamoro regional government.

In an unprecedented move, the regional parliament approved a measure on Monday, February 26, authorizing Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Chief Minister Ahod Balawang “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim to set aside an initial fund of P500 million for a still undetermined number of former Moro combatants.

As part of this support, senior citizens and persons with disabilities, who once fought for the Moro causes, will each receive a lump sum benefit of P84,000 along with a monthly allowance of P7,000 from the regional government.

Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Bill No. 44, which received a majority of 41 affirmative votes, established the Office of the Bangsamoro Mujahideen Under Special Circumstance (OBMUSC) to effectively oversee the implementation of the program. Notably, there were no objections or abstentions during the voting process.

The affirmative votes constituted 51% of the 80-member BARMM parliament.

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Jamaleah Benito, BTA information officer, said the regional parliament did not specify the number of would-be beneficiaries.

“‘Pag pasok ka sa criteria, qualified ka to get financial assistance,” Benito told Rappler on Tuesday, February 27.

(When you meet the criteria, you are qualified to receive financial assistance.)

Baileng Mantawil, a BARMM parliament member, said the regional government has yet to determine exactly how many would qualify for the program. He said many of the former Moro Islamic Liberation Front and MNLF fighters have already died.

Eligibility criteria outlined in the measure require the region’s mujahideen who participated in the struggle for the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination between 1969 and 2014 for a minimum of 20 years. Those eligible, based on the regional law, must also belong to the underprivileged sector.

BTA Member Aida Silongan, chairperson of the parliament’s committee on social services and development, said the measure was meant to reciprocate the region’s mujahideen and acknowledge their sacrifices.

“A lot of mujahideen sacrificed their time, and many lives were lost for the sake of Bangsamoro welfare,” Silongan said.

Silongan said the benefits to be granted are lifetime and non-transferable, aligning with the BARMM’s priority agenda.

Mantawil said the measure was a “tangible expression of our gratitude, a gesture of solidarity with the families who bore the brunt of our collective struggle.”

The newly established OBMUSC was given powers and functions, including extending assistance to qualified beneficiaries, maintaining an updated list of beneficiaries, and conducting periodic reviews of the fund’s sufficiency.

Officials who pushed for the approval of the measure said a technical working group will be formed to coordinate with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and MNLF central committees on the list of qualified recipients.

They also said public consultations were held before the bill’s approval, gathering inputs from various stakeholders, including veterans, internally displaced persons, local leaders, and civil society organizations.

PH looks to 3 key allies for external defense

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 24, 2024): PH looks to 3 key allies for external defense (By: Nestor Corrales) - 2 days ago

Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., AFP chief of staff (Photo from the Facebook page of the Philippine Army)

The Philippines is looking at the continued support from three of its key allies—the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia—as China shows an increasingly aggressive stance in its maritime dispute with Manila in the South China Sea, a major sea-lane that world powers are keen on keeping open.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. on Friday said that in the coming months, the Philippines and the United States would conduct more joint patrols in the West Philippines Sea (WPS), waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

He said US Adm. John Aquilino, chief of the US Indo-Pacific Command (Indopacom), had committed to increase joint naval maneuvers called Maritime Cooperative Activity (MCA), aimed at enhancing interoperability of Filipino and US forces through maritime domain and security awareness operations.

Brawner announced the plans in a meeting with senior US military officers participating in the Capstone Pacific Program at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, said Col. Xerxes Trinidad, chief of the AFP’s public affairs office.

“We are going to do those activities more; we will increase the frequency and its range,” Brawner said, adding that Aquilino told him “he’s ready when we are ready.”

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. told the Capstone delegates in a meeting a day earlier of the need to uphold the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and a rules-based order amid the security challenges in the region, according to a statement from the Department of National Defense (DND).

He pointed to the “pivotal role” of the close cooperation between Manila and Washington in maintaining regional peace and prosperity through the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the United States access to Philippine bases.

Teodoro told the Americans that the AFP was upgrading its capability to protect the Philippines’ EEZ.

UK ventures

Earlier last week, Teodoro met with Richard Graham, the UK Prime Minister’s trade envoy, and their discussions included “the South China Sea, and potential avenues for collaboration in defense and investment,” under a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation signed in January by Manila and London.

Teodoro and Graham “expressed interest in exploring joint ventures with British investors and other forms of cooperation to support” the revised AFP modernization program.

President Marcos recently approved the updated acquisition plan for the Re-Horizon 3, the last stage in the modernization plan, which would cost about P2 trillion and would be focused on acquiring equipment for external defense.

A list of materiel under the updated program was not immediately available but the original plan included multirole fighters, radars, frigates, missile systems, and rescue helicopters.
Marcos to Australia

In his meeting with Graham, the defense chief reaffirmed the importance of its alliance with countries, such as the United States and Australia, both of which have a visiting forces agreement with the Philippines.

The President will visit Australia from Feb. 28 to Feb. 29 ahead of the Australia-Association of Southeast Asian Nations special summit on March 4 to March 6.

Malacañang said Mr. Marcos will discuss the strategic partnership between the Philippines and Australia signed in September 2023.
New defense concept

The President will meet with senior Australian officials to discuss defense and security, trade, investments, people-to-people exchanges, multilateral cooperation and regional issues, the Presidential Communications Office said on Saturday.

The AFP has declared that it was shifting its focus from internal defense—fighting insurgents and terror groups—to external defense.

With this shift, the AFP has adopted the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept as its new defense strategy for the country’s 7,600 islands. Teodoro last month explained that the concept involved projecting “our power into areas where we must, by constitutional fiat and duty, protect and preserve our resources.”

Earlier this month, Brawner said the new concept would entail the acquisition of more ships, aircraft and radar systems, and the development of Philippine-occupied features in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine Navy said it would make the AFP’s new defense concept its centerpiece program and anchor its operations on it, according to Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad.

He told a press briefing on Thursday that the Western Command (Wescom) based in Palawan would be responsible for the West Philippine Sea while the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) based in Tarlac would take care of the country’s northern islands in Batanes province and the Benham Rise.
Still biggest aid source

“The thrust of the Philippine Navy right now is to show the AFP that we are making a strong stand when it comes to protecting our sovereignty in WPS,” Trinidad said.

In January this year, Teodoro said more countries wanted to sign defense cooperation agreements with the Philippines.

The United States, the Philippines’ treaty ally, is still its biggest source of military aid.

The Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military assistance in the Indo-Pacific region. From 2015 to 2022, it delivered more than $1.14 billion worth of planes, armored vehicles, small arms, and other military equipment and training.

The amount includes $475.3 million worth of foreign military financing, which is among the biggest in Southeast Asia, $445 million for capacity building, $112.9 million in threat reduction programs, $95.3 million for maritime security and $15.5 million in International Military Education and Training program.

READ: AFP asked to boost alliances, form new ones with foreign counterparts

The United States also delivered ScanEagle drones worth P200 million in October 2021, and new weapons, munitions and equipment worth P231.5 million in June 2021.

In 2022, the United States granted $100 million in foreign military financing to the Philippines as part of its efforts to boost the country’s defense capabilities and modernize its military.

From 2001 to 2010, the United States provided over $507 million in military assistance to the Philippines. These included radars for the Coast Watch System and a Hamilton-class US Coast Guard cutter that became the flagship of the Philippine Navy. —WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, GERALDFORD TICKE, INQUIRER RESEARCH AND REUTERS

AFP: AFP strikes blow to NPA and Local Terrorist Groups in continuing nationwide sweep

Posted to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Facebook Page (Feb 25, 2024): AFP strikes blow to NPA and Local Terrorist Groups in continuing nationwide sweep

CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City -- A series of coordinated military operations have successfully targeted and eliminated key leaders and members of Communist and Local Terrorists Groups across the country in the past days.

As of February 15, the AFP neutralized 223 Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) members and 18 Local Terrorist Group (LTG) members. Hundreds of low-powered and high-powered firearms, including IEDs, were either seized or surrendered in the said period. Adding to these totals are recent gains as a result of focused military operations in various regions.

On February 24, troops from the 49th Infantry Battalion clashed with NPAs in Brgy. Salvacion, Pio Duran, Albay, seizing various weapons and personal belongings.

The combined forces of the 47th Infantry Battalion, 302nd Brigade, and police forces engaged remnants of CPP-NPA Bohol Party Committee in Bilar, Bohol, led by Domingo Compoc alias Silong on February 23. Compoc was neutralized thereafter with four others.

On the same day, the 29th and 30th Infantry Battalions neutralized one CTG member and seized firearms and ammunition in Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte.
Likewise, The 502nd Infantry Brigade encountered remaining members of the Cagayan Valley Regional Committee in Gonzaga, Cagayan, resulting in the death of one NPA member.

Meanwhile, on February 21, operating troops of the 79th Infantry Battalion engaged members of the defunct Northern Negros Front in Escalante City, Negros Occidental, neutralizing three rebels and recovering various weapons.

On February 18, three (3) terrorist members of the Daulah Islamiyah-Maute Group (DI-MG) led by alias Mas’Od were killed in an operation by the 44th Infantry Battalion to hunt down terrorists behind the Mindanao State University bombing. The military lost 6 valiant soldiers in the said incident. So far, the military were able to neutralize at least 18 DI-MG members, including Alias Engineer who masterminded the attack in MSU-Marawi last December.
The AFP Chief of Staff General Romeo S Brawner Jr reiterates the choice for the remaining terrorists and extends his appreciation to our troops.

“With their leaders and networks dismantled, our enemies stand weakened and exposed. To the remaining terrorists, the only options left for you now are to surrender or perish,” General Brawner said.
“I commend our courageous troops who remain steadfast in defending our peace. You are our nation’s heroes. With every victory, we edge nearer to our mission. Rest assured that the Armed Forces of the Philippines will not falter until peace reigns in our country,” the AFP Chief of Staff added.///

Kakayahan ng Philippine Army sa cyber-warfare, itinanghal sa Cyber-Skills Development Activity

Posted to RP1 News (Feb 26, 2024): Kakayahan ng Philippine Army sa cyber-warfare, itinanghal sa Cyber-Skills Development Activity (Capability of the Philippine Army in cyber-warfare, presented in the Cyber-Skills Development Activity)

Nagsagawa ng dalawang araw na pagsasanay sa cyber-skills development ang Philippine Army nitong weekend sa Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.

Ang pagsasanay ay nilahukan ng walong team na binubuo ng mga opisyal, enlisted personnel, mga estudyante, at sibilyang eksperto.

Dito’y nagsanay ang mga kalahok sa pag-apply ng theoretical na kaalaman sa mga praktikal na aplikasyon.

Layon ng pagsasanay na mapahusay ang kaalaman ng mga kalahok sa cybersecurity at mapalakas ang kooperasyon sa pagitan ng militar, academe, at sibilyang komunidad sa pagtugon sa mga banta sa cyber domain.

Sinabi ni Army Signal Regiment Commander Brigadier General Alejandro Papa na ang aktibidad ay nagsisilbi ding showcase ng kakayahan ng Philippine Army na ipagtanggol ang interes ng bansa sa cyberspace. | ulat ni Leo Sarne

SSg. Cesar Lopez PA/OACPA

3MBde’s Mangoroban leads 10-kilometer foot march to show readiness

From Palawan News (Feb 26, 2024): 3MBde’s Mangoroban leads 10-kilometer foot march to show readiness (By Celeste Anna Formoso)

Brigadier General Antonio Mangoroban Jr. (wearing sunglasses), the commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade, spearheaded a foot march through Puerto Princesa City alongside his troops and reservists on February 25. This exercise aimed to strengthen camaraderie and demonstrate their collective readiness. (Photo courtesy of 3MBde)

3rd Marine Brigade Commander Brigadier General Antonio Mangoroban Jr. led a 10-kilometer foot march through Puerto Princesa City on Sunday, with his troops and reservists outfitted in full battle gear.

Mangoroban said that the foot march was not only a demonstration of readiness for any event but also fostered camaraderie and physical endurance among his entire troops, soldiers of Marine Battalion Landing Team-9, and approximately 15 reservists.

He said the integration activity holds significant value for the marine reservists because it demonstrates their ability to keep pace and interact with their active-duty counterparts.

“Our reservists play a vital role in augmenting our forces during missions, and events like these ensure they are well-prepared and fully integrated into our operational framework,” Mangoroban stated.
Following the activity, he lauded the reservists for their commitment to readiness and their willingness to serve, describing these qualities as fundamental to the core values of the Philippine Marine Corps.

Bishop criticizes military airstrike in Negros Occidental as ‘disproportionate’

From Rappler (Feb 26, 2024): Bishop criticizes military airstrike in Negros Occidental as ‘disproportionate’ (By ERWIN DELILAN)

The Commission on Human Rights says it would initiate an investigation into the military offensive against the New People’s Army in Escalante City

BACOLOD, Philippines – San Carlos City Catholic Bishop Gerardo Alminaza criticized the military on Sunday night, February 25, for launching an airstrike against a small band of rebels in Escalante City, calling it a “disproportionate act.”

The bishop’s critique came even as the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) announced that it would initiate an investigation into the military offensive against the New People’s Army (NPA), which led to the displacement of numerous families in the Negros Occidental city.

Alminaza condemned the military’s decision to resort to an airstrike on Thursday, February 22, marking it as the first such incident on Negros Island. He said the military action resulted in panic, fear, anxiety, and damage to livelihoods among the residents of Sitio Mansulao, Barangay Pinapugasan in Escalante City, comparing the situation to a scene from a war movie.

CRITICIZE. Diocese of San Carlos Bishop Gerry Alminaza says the airstrike launched by the military against rebels in Negros Occidental on Thursday night, February 23, was somewhat disproportionate. Erwin Delilan/Rappler

CHR-Negros Director Vincent Parra told local broadcaster Bombo Radyo-Bacolod that they would investigate the matter, citing international humanitarian law, which protects civilians or non-combatants during hostilities.

Other Stories

Military launches airstrike after fierce clashes in Negros Occidental
Escalante City Mayor Beboy Yap declares a suspension of classes in eight villages in the northern city of Negros Occidental

Richard Jaojoco, a former mayor and now councilor of Toboso town, recounted how many residents were affected as they witnessed military helicopters releasing bullets and rockets, likening it to watching a fireworks display during a fiesta.

Alminaza said the Catholic Diocese of San Carlos would facilitate psycho-social interventions, including debriefing sessions for affected residents of the sporadic encounters and airstrikes in Escalante City and Toboso town, Negros Occidental, both within the diocese’s jurisdiction.

On Saturday, February 24, Alminaza visited Sitio Mansulao, Pinapugasan, assuring affected residents of church aid and emphasizing the need to achieve peace through dialogue rather than armed conflict.

The two-day clashes, coupled with the military airstrike, resulted in the killing of three suspected NPA rebels, and four wounded soldiers, and the displacement of thousands of residents from their homes in six sitios in Barangay San Isidro, Toboso town, and eight villages in Escalante City.

Brigadier General Orland Edralin, Jr., commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, awards a medal to a wounded soldiers in a hospital, acknowledging his bravery in pursuing rebels in Escalante City and Toboso town on February 21 and 22, 2024. 303rd Infantry Brigade

Lieutenant Colonel J-Jay Javinez, spokesman of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, said the military resorted to the airstrike as a strategic approach of neutralizing the rebels even at nighttime.

The controversial military airstrike followed sporadic encounters between the Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion and rebels from the NPA’s North Negros Front (NNF) starting on February 21.

Major General Marion Sison, 3rd ID commander, said the military was determined to confront and neutralize the NPA rebels that they dispatched Augusta Westland-109 “Night Hawk” attack helicopters against them.

Javinez said a thorough evaluation, including risk assessment to mitigate collateral damage, preceded the airstrike executed by the 18th Attack Squadron of the Philippine Air Force, asserting that the military strictly adhered to guidelines.

Satellite images reveal floating barrier at mouth of disputed atoll in South China Sea

From Rappler (Feb 26, 2024): Satellite images reveal floating barrier at mouth of disputed atoll in South China Sea (By REUTERS)

One of the images taken by Maxar Technologies on February 22 and viewed by Reuters shows the barrier blocking the mouth of Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal

Satellite images of the hotly disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea show a new floating barrier across its entrance, near where Philippine ships and China coast guard vessels have had frequent run-ins.

One of the images taken by Maxar Technologies on February 22 and viewed by Reuters showed the barrier blocking the mouth of the shoal, where the Chinese coast guard last week claimed to have driven off a Philippine vessel “illegally intruding” into Beijing’s waters.

The Philippines, which last week deployed a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel to patrol the shoal and transport fuel to Filipino fishermen in the area, said that China’s claims were “inaccurate” and that Manila’s activities there were lawful.

China claims the Scarborough Shoal, although it is inside the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. An international arbitration tribunal in the Hague said in 2016 that China’s claims had no legal basis – a decision Beijing has rejected.

Other Stories

Repelled? BFAR ship still patrolling Bajo de Masinloc, says PH Coast Guard
The Philippine Coast Guard says its Chinese counterpart's claim is 'inaccurate' as Philippine vessels continue to patrol Scarborough Shoal

China puts floating barriers in Scarborough Shoal, blocking Filipino fishermen – PCG
The Philippines condemns China's installation of floating barriers in Scarborough Shoal, assuring safety and security of Filipino fishermen doing their livelihood in their territory

That makes the atoll one of Asia’s most contested maritime features and a flashpoint for diplomatic flare-ups over sovereignty and fishing rights.

The satellite image bolsters a report and video distributed by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Sunday showing two Chinese coast guard inflatable boats deploying floating barriers at the shoal’s entrance on Feb 22.

The PCG said that a China coast guard ship shadowed the BFAR vessel, “conducted blocking maneuvers” about 1.3 nautical miles (2.4 km) off the shoal, and closely approached it.

“We can assume that (the barrier) is intended for Philippine government vessels because they install it every time they monitor our presence within the BDM vicinity,” Jay Tarriela, a spokesperson at the Philippine Coast Guard said, referring to Bajo de Masinloc, Manila’s name for the shoal.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said “Huangyan Dao,” China’s name for the shoal, was “China’s inherent territory.”

“Recently, the Philippine side has taken a series of actions to violate China’s sovereignty” in the shoal’s waters, she said. “China has to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

Another satellite image showed what Maxar technologies described as “possible Chinese interception of a BFAR vessel” at Scarborough Shoal.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

“What we are seeing at the Scarborough Shoal now is likely the beginning of Beijing’s pushback against Manila’s pushback,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr took office in June 2022, the Philippines has challenged China’s presence at Scarborough and its attempts to stop the resupply of Filipino troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, he said.

“China’s attempts to prevent Filipino fishermen from fishing at Scarborough Shoal is absolutely illegal,” Storey said. “The 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling gave fishermen from both countries the right to (fish there). Manila is merely supporting the legitimate rights of Filipino fishermen.”

The shoal is coveted for its bountiful fish stocks and a stunning turquoise lagoon that provides a safe haven for vessels during storms.

The Chinese removed the barrier a few hours after the BFAR vessel left, Tarriela said. It was not clear from the photos how robust the barrier was and whether it would have posed an obstacle to larger warships.

In an article on Sunday, state-media outlet Global Times said “the Philippines has abused and unilaterally sabotaged the foundation of Beijing’s goodwill to Manila” that allowed Philippine fishermen to operate nearby, by working against China’s sovereignty and jurisdiction.

“If such provocations persist, China could be forced to take more effective measures to control the situation,” the article said, citing experts.

View from Manila: Beijing bristles at media presence in Bajo de Masinloc

From Rappler (Feb 26, 2024): View from Manila: Beijing bristles at media presence in Bajo de Masinloc (By BEA CUPIN)

China state-run media accuses Filipino journalists embedded in coast guard missions of attempts 'to smear and hype' the China Coast Guard's actions

MANILA, Philippines – Shadowing and blocking maneuvers by China in the West Philippine Sea are nothing new for personnel of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), nor for Philippine journalists who are practically regulars in missions to those waters as part of the government’s “transparency initiative.”

But what is new in February 2024 is where those maneuvers are taking place: in Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal, a feature over 100 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales that’s also the new focus of the much spoken-about initiative.

On February 22, and again on the 23rd, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ship BRP Datu Sanday entered the shoal’s territorial sea for a rotational deployment alongside the PCG. During these missions, the BFAR distributes to Filipino fisherfolk in the area essentials to survive longer time out at sea: groceries, supplies, and, most crucially, fuel.

In a release on February 25, the PCG said they monitored at least three shadowing incidents and four “dangerous maneuvers” or blocking incidents by the China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia vessels.

Other Stories

Satellite images reveal floating barrier at mouth of disputed atoll in South China Sea
One of the images taken by Maxar Technologies on February 22 and viewed by Reuters shows the barrier blocking the mouth of Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal

Repelled? BFAR ship still patrolling Bajo de Masinloc, says PH Coast Guard
The Philippine Coast Guard says its Chinese counterpart's claim is 'inaccurate' as Philippine vessels continue to patrol Scarborough Shoal

“Blocking” by Chinese ships happens when a ship or several ships – up to three at a time on February 22 – sail across a Philippine vessel’s path. When more than one ship is involved in this at-sea shenanigan, two or three Chinese boats surround a Philippine ship, forcing it to stop in its tracks.

These “gray zone” tactics are often used in Ayungin Shoal during resupply missions to the military outpost BRP Sierra Madre. Now, it seems, China has finally gotten the memo – “transparency” is now the policy in Bajo de Masinloc, too.

In a tweet on February 24, a day before the PCG released videos and photos to show proof of Chinese harassment in the shoal, China’s state-run Global Times said in a post on X (formerly Twitter): “Photos released by the China Coast Guard (CCG) on Saturday show that several journalists were onboard the Philippine vessel 3002 near China’s Huangyan Island on Thursday to take pictures and shoot videos in an attempt to smear and hype the CCG’s operation.”

The post included a grainy photo of at least two cameramen, one photographer, and what looked to be two PCG personnel with cameras on board the BFAR ship. Another less zoomed in photo showed several people, including cameramen and a reporter right outside the deck of the ship.

Embedding is certainly a welcome opportunity for Philippine journalists – in the past, it had not been easy (or possible) to access parts of the West Philippine Sea, much more government-led operations in those waters. The only downside is that your movements are dictated – but not restricted – by government plans and schedules.

The PCG certainly tries to accommodate media requests. A summary of the February 22 mission to Bajo de Masinloc that was released to the media indicates that rubber boats were deployed first so BFAR personnel could document what the CCG was doing in the shoal, and then so Philippine news crews could interview the fisherfolk near the shoal.

I’ve yet to join a mission to Bajo de Masinloc, but I was able to join the November 2023 resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal. While that mission was a huge success – it was the closest the PCG had ever come to the BRP Sierra Madre in a long time – it was still as tense as it could get.

“Thrilling” is not the word to describe the experience of being embedded on a PCG ship during these missions. “Tense” does not suffice either. I’ve settled with “overwhelmed.”

Overwhelming is really the only word that comes close to the experience of being surrounded by CCG and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) ships in the West Philippine Sea, and then spotting the rusty but glorious BRP Sierra Madre in a span of just a few hours. I’d admit, however, that certain moments in the mission felt more nakalulula (dizzying) or makalipong (nauseating) – both metaphorically and literally.

It’s interesting that in the first prominent media embed in Bajo de Masinloc, the CCG is quite to react – and oh so dramatically. In their eyes, Philippine journalists are there to “attempt to smear and hype the CCG’s operation.”

Just as interesting and concerning is a new assertion by the PCG: that China seems to be blocking the BFAR ship’s automatic identification system (AIS) signal.

“We noticed that even if our AIS are turned on, there are instances that our vessels cannot transmit their AIS signal. We also noticed this occurrence during the last deployment of BRP Teresa Magbanua and BRP Datu Tamblot,” said PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela.

“We assume that they do the jamming every time they release their statements that they repelled our vessels. Through such jamming, any commercial AIS monitoring cannot also disprove such statements because they may not be able to find our vessels,” he added.

The PCG did not provide proof of the suspected jamming, as of posting.

The AIS is a system through which other ships find out what other vessels are in an area (aside from physical tracking, of course). Chinese ships – the CCG, and CMM – have been known to “go dark” in parts of the West Philippine Sea, which means they’ve turned off their AIS signals.

The PCG also monitored gray ships – or vessels of the Chinese Navy – during the mission. But Tarriela was also quick to note that they were far from the shoal and “did not approach the territorial sea limits.”

Bajo de Masinloc is a high-tide elevation that’s well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. Since bits of the shoal are visible even during high tide, it generates a territorial sea of its own.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including the shoal, as its own – even if a 2016 arbitral ruling said their claim was wrong.
Upping military presence in the North

The Philippine Air Force is also making (more) public its efforts to monitor other parts of the Philippines’ coast. In a February 26 release, the PAF said it provided aerial support during the Northern Luzon Command’s Maritime Air Patrol in the Nothern Luzon Seaboard.

“Executing the mission with a C-295 aircraft, the PAF covered key areas, including Itbayat, Sabtang, and Babuyan Islands. No significant activities or sightings were reported during the monitoring of these areas,” said the PAF in a statement.

The statement comes weeks after Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro ordered the military to boost its presence in the northernmost islands of the country that face Taiwan.
Joint fly upsets China, too

Washington DC and Manila are most definitely serious about upping their defense ties. In the third week of February 2024, their air forces held a joint patrol as a continuation of the third Maritime Cooperative Activity (MCA) that started earlier in the month.

As the cliche goes, the activity is likely to upset Beijing. And upset, China was. Its military said the Philippines was “stirring up trouble” by engaging in joint air patrols with “extraterritorial countries” then “hyping it up.”

Beijing’s assertions prompted National Security Adviser Eduardo Año to speak up. He said in a February 21 statement: “The Philippines rejects China’s assertion that joint patrols with US forces in the West Philippine Sea constitute stirring up trouble. Our engagements with the United States are well within our rights as a sovereign and independent nation, aimed at promoting maritime security and upholding international law.”

He added: “The joint air patrol with the US is part of our longstanding defense cooperation. We will continue to work closely with our friends, allies, and partners to ensure a secure and prosperous future for all nations in the Indo-Pacific region.”

By the way things are going, it wouldn’t be surprising to see another MCA in March.

Army clarifies no more active guerilla fronts in NegOcc

From Panay News (Feb 27, 2024): Army clarifies no more active guerilla fronts in NegOcc (By Panay News)

BACOLOD City – The Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) has again clarified that there are no more active guerilla fronts in Negros Occidental.

Lieutenant Colonel J-jay Javines, 3ID spokesperson, said the insurgents encountered by the army last week in Northern Negros Occidental were remnants of the guerilla fronts who were previously operating in the province.

Javines also mentioned the necessity of airstrikes in their operations because they hold an advantage against the rebels.

He pointed out the approach they have taken makes the targets more precise and reduces the risk of casualties among government forces.

As of yesterday, clearing operations at the encounter site in Barangay Pinapugasan, Escalante City were ongoing.

Displaced residents have been allowed to return home over the weekend.

The clashes in Northern Negros Occidental initially took place on Feb. 21, after the army’s 79th Infantry Battalion (79IB) received information that suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were extorting food and supplies from local residents.

A total of eight gun battles erupted afterwards, culminating with an airstrike from the Philippine Air Force on Thursday night, Feb. 22.

Over the weekend, the bodies of the three deceased rebels, later
identified as Emaren Pastidio, Michael Cabahug and Jose Caramihan, were retrieved from the encounter site and turned over to village officials for proper burial.

Authorities also recovered weapons and explosives from the rebels, which were promptly turned over to the police.
(Watchmen Daily Journal)/

100 people still at Escalante evacuation center

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 27, 2024): 100 people still at Escalante evacuation center (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

Several days after the successive encounters between government forces and remnants of the New People’s Army, about 100 individuals have preferred to stay at the evacuation center in Brgy. Pinapugasan, Escalante City, Negros Occidental, disclosed yesterday by Army spokesman Lt. Col. J Jay Javines.

Javines said that pursuit operations against the fleeing rebels are still underway, as of this time, while the encounter sites have already been declared “cleared,” with no sightings of rebel remnants reported.

He added that the remaining displaced residents may now return to their respective homes, as he advised them to seek coordination with the 79th Infantry Battalion.

About 160 families, composed of 600 individuals, from the hinterlands of Escalante City and Toboso, who were among those temporarily displaced by the series of encounters between government forces and New People’s Army rebels, returned to their respective homes on February 23.

The Philippine Army logged eight encounters between remnants of the dismantled Northern Negros Front in Brgy. Pinapugasan, Escalante City, on Feb. 21 and 22, which claimed the lives of three NPA rebels and injured three Army soldiers and a government militiaman.

An airstrike was also conducted by the Philippine Air Force on Feb. 22, to support the 79IB in the conduct of pursuit operations against the NPA rebels who had occupied an advantageous position during the series of encounters.

Javines belied reports of unexploded ordnance in the area, as he clarified that the Air Force attack gunships fired rockets at the rebel stronghold, and not bombs, contrary to reports in the media.*

Conflict-displaced families return home, get DSWD assistance

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 26, 2024): Conflict-displaced families return home, get DSWD assistance  (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

About 160 families, composed of 600 individuals, from the hinterlands of Escalante City and Toboso, who were among those temporarily displaced by a series of encounters between government forces and New People’s Army rebels, finally returned to their respective homes on February 23.

Lt. Col. J Jay Javines, Civil Military Operations chief of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, disclosed that the security situation gradually stabilized, following a series of encounters on Feb. 21 and 22, in Brgy. Pinapugasan, Escalante City.

Javines, however, said 53 families and 174 individuals are still staying at Pinapugasan barangay proper in Escalante City.

He said there have been no more reported sightings of armed rebels, signaling a positive shift towards peace and normalcy. However, Javines said the Army continues its diligent clearing operations to ensure the area remains secure.

About 268 families, composed of 1,092 individuals, were provided with P971,364 worth of assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

“The DSWD Field Office VI is one in heart with these LGUs who respond to armed conflict. We cannot imagine the trauma of families, especially the children, when they hear the exchange of gunfire. Rest assured that our office will continue to help,” Atty. Carmelo Nochete, regional director, said in a statement.

The DSWD reported that its DRMD Disaster Response Section allocated food and non-food Items consisting of 366 family food packs, 183 hygiene kits, and 183 sleeping kits to augment the initial assistance provided by local government units.

It further said that the Municipal Action Team of Toboso administered the Disaster Assistance Family Access Cards (DAFAC), by conducting the profiling of affected families and individuals.

Classes, which were suspended last week in Brgy. Pinapugasan, Escalante City, and all nine barangays in Toboso, are expected to resume today.*

Basilan officials shot in Zamboanga City

Posted to the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 26, 2024): Basilan officials shot in Zamboanga City

ZAMBOANGA CITY - The president of the Association of Barangay Councils in Basilan's Isabela City and his companion were shot by two gunmen late Sunday at a hotel here, police said.

Franklyn Tan

Police identified the slain Seaside village chieftain as Franklin Tan while his companion, Jaider Jundam, village chieftain of Kaumpurnah Zone 1, was wounded in the shooting and rushed to hospital after the daring attack in Nunez Avenue. The assailant, according to witnesses, escaped on a motorcycle.

A third companion, Daryl Jalani, the village chieftain of Kaumpurnah Zone 3, was unhurt from the attack. No group or individual claimed responsibility for the shooting.

Members of the emergency medical team arrived late and one tried to revive Tan by applying cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a lifesaving technique that's useful in many emergencies in which someone's breathing or heartbeat has stopped. Tan was later evacuated to the nearest hospital.

Details of the shooting and the background of the victims remain unavailable as police mount an investigation and hunt for the attackers.

The mayor of Isabela City, Djalia Turabin, wrote this on her Facebook page after receiving reports of the shooting. "To God we belong and to Him we shall return Kap/Konsi Franklyn Tan."

She also released a statement, saying:" The Local Government Unit of Isabela City is struck by tragedy with the shameless and senseless killing of the president of the Association of Barangay Chairpersons (ABC) of Isabela City and the Punong Barangay of Seaside, Franklyn Tan. The incident, which took place in Zamboanga City on February 25, also injured Kaumpurnah Zone I Punong Barangay Jaider Jundam.

We join all peace-loving and law-abiding Isabeleños in expressing in the strongest terms possible, our collective outrage and condemnation of such heinous and cowardly act.
In response to this assault, I personally appeal to the Philippine National Police to intensify its pursuit operations against the perpetrators of this crime.

As we shall remain vigilant of the progress of this investigation, the men and women of the City Government extend their deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of the late ABC President Tan, and send their prayers and support, especially to the surviving victims and their loved ones. The local leadership of the City of Isabela stands in undivided solidarity with the constituents of the aforementioned barangays during this most difficult time.
I reiterate: There is no space in any progressive democratic society, most especially in the City of Isabela, for the blatant disregard of the rule of law and the wanton disrespect for human life."

There have been over a dozen killings here since early this year and the attacks have alarmed residents.
(Mindanao Examiner)

More Filipinos fish in Scarborough shoal as gov’t intensifies presence

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 26, 2024): More Filipinos fish in Scarborough shoal as gov’t intensifies presence (By Stephanie Sevillano)

SUCCESSFUL MISSION. Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) spokesperson Nazario Briguera reports a successful mission for aid distribution to Filipino fishers in the Bajo de Masinloc during the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon briefing on Monday (Feb. 26, 2024). He said the BFAR distributed diesel and clean water supply to 44 Filipino fishing vessels in the area. (Screengrab)

MANILA – The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said Monday more Filipinos are now fishing in the Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough shoal.

During the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon briefing, BFAR spokesperson Nazario Briguera said Filipino fishing vessels increased as the government intensified its presence in the area.

"Kumpara natin nung nakaraang misyon na nasa 21 Filipino fishing boats lang, nitong huling misyon, nasa 44 fishing boats na ang nandoon at nakatanggap ng suporta mula sa pamahalaan (Compared to our last mission where there were only 21 fishing boats, in our last mission, the fishing boats that are already there are 44, they also received aid from the government)," he said.

“Lumalakas na ang loob ng mga mangingisda na pumalaot doon sa lugar at ito ang layunin ng ating pangulo (The courage of our fishers to fish in the area is getting stronger and this is the goal of our President [Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.]),” Nazario added.

He also underscored the diversion of maritime actions of the Chinese Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia since the onset of their regular patrols.

“Sa halip na ang nagkakaroon ng intimidasyon ay yung mga mangingisdang Pilipino, nako-concentrate yung intimidasyon o yung panghaharang doon sa ating barko (Instead of our Filipino fishers bearing the intimidation, the intimidation or blocking attempts are now concentrated to our ship),” he added.

The BFAR, in partnership with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), recently concluded yet another successful mission in the Bajo de Masinloc via BRP Sanday.

Nazario reported the distribution of around 44,900 liters of diesel, 270 liters of drinking water, and 20 gallons of fresh water to Filipino fishers in the area.

The BFAR, meanwhile, assured to support fisherfolk in the West Philippine Sea through its LAYAG WPS, which stands for Livelihood Activities to Enhance Fisheries Yield and Economic Gains from the West Philippine Sea.

Nazario said around 66 units of over 60-feet fishing boats are set to be distributed this year.

“Mahigit sampu ang naka-target na ibigay sa mga mangingisda ng West Philippine Sea (Over 10 [fishing boats] are targeted to be given to WPS fishers),” he said.

The units shall be provided to fishers through the various fisherfolk associations or cooperatives to help increase harvest.

Besides this, the BFAR shall also continue rolling out its post-harvest support to fishers in provinces facing the WPS.

PH has potential to lead cybersecurity via AI -- exec

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 26, 2024): PH has potential to lead cybersecurity via AI -- exec (By Raymond Carl Dela Cruz)

AI IN CODING. A screen capture of Amazon Inspector, an automated vulnerability management service that scans workloads for software vulnerabilities and unintended network exposure. Amazon Web Services (AWS) Commercial head of security for Asia Pacific and Japan Phil Rodrigues on Monday (Feb. 26, 2024) said there is an opportunity for the Philippines to become a leader in cybersecurity through the use and study of such generative artificial intelligence tools. (Screencapture courtesy of AWS)

MANILA – An executive of Amazon Web Services (AWS) on Monday said there is an opportunity for the Philippines to become a leader in cybersecurity through the use of generative artificial intelligence (AI).

During an online press conference, Phil Rodrigues, AWS Commercial head of security for Asia Pacific and Japan, said generative AI can train cybersecurity professionals in the Philippines and “leap ahead” of its current status.

Rodrigues estimated that the Philippines has only around 200 cybersecurity professionals compared to around 3,000 in Singapore.

“I do see an opportunity for the Philippines to have a leadership role in cybersecurity,” he said.

He cited existing AI tools such as Amazon Inspector -- an automated vulnerability management service that scans workloads for software vulnerabilities and unintended network exposure -- and Amazon CodeWhisperer, a productivity tool that generates real-time single or full-function secure code suggestions for developers.

“What we’re finding now is that augmenting developers with data security tools can improve code security. That’s a very practical and a very ‘now’ place that the Philippines can start,” he said.

Launched in February 2022, AWS’ re/Start program provides free skills training to inspire Filipinos to transition into a career in cloud computing through collaboration with two local organizations.

AWS has also launched its AI Ready program that commits to providing free AI skills training to two million people worldwide by 2025.

It includes eight new free AI and generative AI courses, AWS generative AI scholarship, and collaboration with to help students learn about generative AI.

“We like to democratize security, we look at how to protect ourselves, and we take that opportunity and turn it into tools to help our customers protect themselves. We’re democratizing technology and security,” Rodrigues said.

He estimated that MadPot -- Amazon’s threat intelligence tool that creates phony digital targets that lure attackers to study and counter their methods -- gets more than 100 million connection attempts per day.

“There is a very high global activity on this. The most common, generally, are credential attacks. This continues to be the number one way to attack a system,” he said.

Meanwhile, Oliver Klein, AWS chief technologist in Asia Pacific, highlighted the company’s investments in the Philippines such as the launch of AWS Local Zones in Manila in June 2023.

AWS Local Zones place computing, storage, database, and other select services closer to large populations, enabling single-digit latency to end-users.

Other AWS investments include the availability of Amazon Interactive Video Service points of presence in April 2022, AWS outposts in April 2021, and Amazon CloudFront in December 2014.

AI Singapore (AISG) -- a program launched by Singapore’s National Research Foundation -- is building SEA-LION, a family of large language models (LLM) that is specifically pre-trained and instruct-tuned to be more culturally accurate, localized, and tailored to Southeast Asian languages and cultures.

SEA-LION is being built on AWS’ scalable computer infrastructure and has been available on Amazon SageMaker JumpStart since February.

Leyte police intensify patrol after death of village execs

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 26, 2024): Leyte police intensify patrol after death of village execs (By Sarwell Meniano)

INTENSIFIED. Leyte police provincial office (PPO) director Col. Erwin Portillo speaks to police officers during the flag ceremony on Monday (Feb. 26, 2024). The Leyte PPO has intensified its patrol in the 3rd congressional district of Leyte after the fatal shooting of five village officials last week. (Photo courtesy of Leyte PPO)

TACLOBAN CITY – The Leyte police provincial office (PPO) has intensified its patrol in the 3rd congressional district of Leyte after the fatal shooting of five village officials last week.

In a statement Monday, the Leyte PPO said it had established 24-hour checkpoints and implemented measures to heighten visibility and police presence as it intensifies intelligence efforts to identify and arrest those involved.

“We are collaborating with other law enforcement agencies, conducting thorough investigations, and utilizing all available resources to ensure a swift resolution,” Leyte PPO director Col. Erwin Portillo said.

Portillo issued the statement following the death of Daja Diot village chief Elizalde Tabon, village councilor Paulo Mendero, and village watchman Rusty Salazar, in San Isidro town on Feb. 24.

Four gunmen riding in two motorcycles reportedly barged into the village hall and attacked the victims while attending a meeting.

The incident came on the heels of the shooting-to-death of village councilor Rodulfo Cajes of Tag-abaca village in Leyte, Leyte, on Feb. 23.

He was heading to the local agricultural office when he was ambushed.

On Feb. 20, a gunman shot and killed village councilor Ronald Palacio in Tugas village, Tabango, Leyte.

The towns of San Isidro, Leyte, and Tabango are part of Leyte’s 3rd legislative district.

In a statement on Sunday night, Leyte 3rd district Rep. Anna Veloso-Tuazon condemned the incidents and expressed alarm over the “spike in killings and assassinations” in recent months in the towns of San Isidro, Leyte, Tabango, Villaba, and Calubian.

“These incidents create a chilling effect among our citizenry and have no place in a society that values life, dignity, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and adherence to the rule of law,” Tuazon said.

The Leyte PPO urged everyone to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities or information that could help them in their investigations.

2 suspected NPA members nabbed for extortion in Sorsogon

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 26, 2024): 2 suspected NPA members nabbed for extortion in Sorsogon (By Connie Calipay)

(Infographic courtesy of PRO5)

LEGAZPI CITY – Police arrested two suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) engaged in robbery and extortion activities in an entrapment operation over the weekend in Sorsogon province.

In a report on Monday, Lt. Col. Malu Calubaquib, Police Regional Office (PRO5) spokesperson,
identified the duo as "Esteve," 25, of Barangay Miluya, Castilla town, and “Leny”, 45, of Barangay Basud, Sorsogon City.

"They were apprehended red-handed while allegedly extorting money from a barangay official. Confiscated from them was one genuine PHP1,000 bill along with PHP19,000 in marked boodle money, which was used as part of the entrapment operation," Calubaquib said.

She said the suspects were at the Sorsogon City Police Station for further legal proceedings.

"The unit continues its determined efforts to counter the activities of the New People's Army. PRO5 Regional Director Brig. Gen. Andre P. Dizon is closely collaborating with partner agencies and local government authorities to uphold peace and order in the region effectively," she said.

PRO5 also urges the public to promptly report any incidents related to the NPA to expedite efforts to address and prevent illicit activities.

Meanwhile, in Masbate province, the region's No. 3 wanted person was arrested on Sunday in Barangay Tagpu, Mandaon town.

"Franz", 33 is facing cases of murder with no bail recommended and another case for frustrated murder with bail set at PHP200,000.

In a statement, Dizon commended the exemplary efforts of the collaborating teams, recognizing their dedication and efficiency in executing the operation.

Gov’t forces sustain clearing ops in north Negros clash site

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 26, 2024): Gov’t forces sustain clearing ops in north Negros clash site (By Nanette Guadalquiver)

RETRIEVAL OPERATION. Troops of the Philippine Army and scene of the crime operatives of the Philippine National Police retrieve on Saturday (Feb. 24, 2024) the body of one of the New People’s Army rebels killed during the encounter in the hinterlands of Escalante City, Negros Occidental last week. On Monday (Feb. 26), government forces continued to conduct clearing operations in the clash site in Barangay Pinapugasan. (Photo courtesy of 79th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army)

BACOLOD CITY – Troops of the Philippine Army continue to conduct clearing operations in the hinterlands of northern Negros Occidental on Monday as classes resumed and some of the displaced residents returned home after a series of armed encounters in Barangay Pinapugasan, Escalante City last week.

Lt. Col. J-Jay Javines, public affairs division chief of 3rd Infantry Division, said government troops are making sure the area remains secure although they have no longer monitored any presence of communist rebels.

“The clearing operation is continuing,” Javines said in an interview.

On Monday, the suspension of classes, which took effect on Friday, was lifted in eight villages in Escalante City and the entire Toboso town after the local government units (LGUs) received clearance from the Philippine Army.

Over the weekend, the 79th Infantry Battalion (IB) assisted hundreds of internally displaced persons in the two localities in returning to their homes although there are still at least a hundred who remained in Barangay Pinapugasan Proper on Monday.

Reports of the local social welfare and development offices showed 1,092 individuals from 268 families were affected by the clashes between the troops of 79IB and remnants of the New People’s Army Northern Negros Front.

Of the number, some 980 individuals from 240 families sought shelter in evacuation centers.

Aside from receiving assistance from the LGUs, the displaced families were also provided food and non-food items worth PHP971,364 by the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Western Visayas.

The series of encounters, which took place on Feb. 21-22, claimed the lives of three NPA rebels, including Emaryn “Jandie” Pastedio and Christopher “Michael” Ebarle, who were recruited as child warriors several years back, and Jose Caramihan, a former member of an anti-crime volunteer group.

On the government side, three soldiers and a militiaman were wounded during the first encounter on Feb. 21.

They each received a Wounded Personnel Medal from the Philippine Army while being confined at a hospital in Bacolod City.

The injured soldiers were identified as 2nd Lt. Frenzy Jarey Gonzales, Privates First Class Jiesard Mesina and Sandie Cabayle, as well as Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit member Eduardo Linogon.

In a related development, the outgoing commanding officer of the 62nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, whose coverage area includes northern Negros Oriental, on Monday highlighted the need for a sustained holistic approach to end the Communist insurgency.

Col. William Pesase, whose tour of duty of a little over two years will end on Tuesday, told the Philippine News Agency that although Negros Island has already been declared under a state of Stable Internal Peace and Security (SIPS), “we should not let our guard down.”

“Declaring Negros to be in a state of stable internal peace and security is different from saying that it is insurgency-free because there are still remnants of the New People’s Army (NPA) guerilla fronts on the island,” Pesase said.

While the government, through the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, has announced that all NPA guerilla fronts in Negros are already dismantled, the remaining members must be under close monitoring to prevent them from recouping and building up their mass bases, he added.

Pesase will relinquish his command to Lt. Col. Evelio Ilanga during a turnover ceremony at the 62nd IB headquarters in Isabela, Negros Occidental with Maj. Gen. Marion Sison, 3rd Infantry Division commander, presiding the event. (With a report from Mary Judaline Partlow, PNA)

PNP denies massacre claims, maintains 5 NPAs killed in encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 26, 2024): PNP denies massacre claims, maintains 5 NPAs killed in encounter (By John Rey Saavedra)

CEBU CITY – The Philippine National Police in Bohol on Monday denied claims made by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) that the five members of the New People's Army (NPA) who died in an encounter in Bilar town were victims of a massacre.

Lt. Col. Norman Nuez, spokesperson of the Bohol Provincial Police Office, said the NPA rebels fired at the members of the local police when they served the arrest warrant against the leader of the Bohol Party Committee remnants, Domingo Jaspe Compoc.

Because of that, one of their operatives died, Nuez pointed out.

"One of our policemen who served the warrant of arrest against Compoc died when the rebels fired upon them, " Nuez said.

The gunbattle lasted for two hours and 45 minutes, he said, and as a result, Compoc, who had a PHP2 million bounty on his head, was killed along with four other fighters.

The other fighters were identified as Parlito Segovia alias Aldrin, Marlon Omosura alias Darwin, a certain Juaning, and a 2022 Philippine Bar passer, Hannah Joy Cesista.

According to him, the policemen and soldiers who jointly conducted the operations strictly followed the rules of engagement during the operation.

Meanwhile, the Visayas Command confirmed that Eutropio Alegre Cesista claimed Sunday the body of his daughter in a funeral parlor in Tagbilaran City and was brought to their hometown in Catubig, Northern Samar.

Marcos government steps up efforts vs terrorist groups

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 25, 2024): Marcos government steps up efforts vs terrorist groups (By Anna Leah Gonzales)

PEACE FIGHTER. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. talks to a wounded soldier at the Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City on Feb. 12, 2024. He met and awarded the other recovering soldiers who were part of the successful military operation against the Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute Group in Lanao del Sur province in January, resulting in the death of terrorists involved in the December 2023 bombing of the Mindanao State University-Marawi. (Photo courtesy of Pfc. Carmelotes/PAOAFP)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Sunday vowed to strengthen the government campaign against terrorist groups.

The President made the statement after six soldiers were killed in clashes with the Islamic State-linked Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute Group (DI-MG) group in a remote village in Munai, Lanao del Norte on Feb. 18.

“Hindi natin makakalimutan ang kanilang kadakilaan at kabayanihan. Ipagpapatuloy natin ang kanilang ipinaglaban, at uusigin natin ang mga kalaban ng kapayapaan. (We will never forget their greatness and heroism. We will continue what they fought for and we will go after the enemies of peace),” President Marcos said in his vlog uploaded on YouTube.

“Ipinapangako natin sa kanilang mga mahal sa buhay, at sa sambayanang Pilipino, na ating ipadarama sa kanilang mga na-ulila, ang pagmamahal at pagkikilala ng pamahalaan sa kanilang nagawang sakripisyo (We promise to their loved ones, and to the Filipino people, that we will make their family feel the love and recognition of the government for their sacrifices),” he added.

Six members of the Philippine Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion were killed and four others were wounded in a firefight with the DI group in Barangay Ramain.

The 7th Scout Ranger Company under the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion helped in fighting the DI-MG extremists.

The DI-MG group operates in communities in the boundary of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.

PH Army eyes stronger reserve force via community defense hubs

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 26, 2024): PH Army eyes stronger reserve force via community defense hubs (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Philippine Army spokesperson Col. Louie Dema-ala (Screengrab from Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon briefing)

MANILA – The Philippine Army (PA) on Monday said it is beefing up its reserve force through the formation of regional and community defense centers.

"Currently, meron tayong mga bagong inorganize na mga regional community defense groups and community defense centers para ma-cater yung mga kababayan natin na gustong mag volunteer sa reserve force (we are now currently organizing new regional community defense groups and community defense centers to cater to our countrymen interested in volunteering their services to the reserve force)," Army spokesperson Col. Louie Dema-ala said in a Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon interview.

These hubs are created for the sole purpose of reserve force management, procurement and organization.

To date, Dema-ala said the Army's reserve force has reached "almost a million".

Dema-ala said they are also looking at how to make the Reserve Officers Training Corps' (ROTC) curriculum more "responsive to the situation and security environment" faced by the country.

Senate Bill 2034, which pushes for the revival of mandatory ROTC for students in higher education institutions (HEIs) and technical-vocational institutions, is included in the Marcos administration's legislative agenda.

Dema-ala, meanwhile, said the Army has implemented a centralized recruitment procedure for aspiring soldiers.

"For this year, we have a quota of 800 for officers, and 4,029 para sa (for) enlisted personnel. Ang gagawin lang ng mga kababayan natin na gustong mag-apply is pumunta lang sa website ng Join the Army or the Army Personnel Management Center para mag-register (Those who would want to apply can just log in to the website of the Join the Army of the Army or the Army Personnel Management Center to register),” he said.

Dema-ala said some 800 new enlisted personnel are set to take their oath on March 1.

The PA will mark its 127th founding anniversary on March 22 with the theme "Matatag na Hukbong Katihan para sa Bagong Pilipinas" (Strong Army for a New Philippines).