Wednesday, March 6, 2024

US rebukes China for ‘provocative acts’ that hurt 4 Filipinos in WPS

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6, 2024): US rebukes China for ‘provocative acts’ that hurt 4 Filipinos in WPS (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

COLLISION. Two Philippine Coast Guard personnel scramble to place a fender to lessen the impact of collision before BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) and the bigger Chinese Coast Guard vessel 21555 collide on Tuesday (March 5, 2024). The BRP Sindangan suffered minor damage, according to the PCG. (Photo courtesy of PCG)

MANILA – The US State Department criticized China for its “provocative actions” in the West Philippine Sea, including the use of water cannons against a resupply boat that injured four Filipino service members while they were en route to Ayungin Shoal.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US stands with the Philippines against these acts and is in “discussion” with the government about the latest incident.

“The latest actions, which are just the most recent in a series of provocative actions by the PRC (People’s Republic of China), demonstrate once again a reckless disregard by the PRC for the safety of Filipinos and also for international law,” he said in a briefing on Wednesday (Manila time).

“By impeding the safe operation of Philippine vessels carrying provisions to Filipino service members stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, the PRC interfered in lawful Philippine maritime operations and in Philippine vessels’ exercise of high-seas freedom of navigation,” he added.

The State Department said under the 2016 Arbitral Ruling, China has “no lawful maritime claims to the waters” around Ayungin Shoal as the feature is a low-tide elevation located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.  

“As provided under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding on the PRC and the Philippines, and the United States calls upon the PRC to abide by the ruling and desist from its dangerous and destabilizing conduct,” Miller said.

READ: PCG vessel escorting RORE mission to Ayungin collides with CCG

Miller reiterated that the US is committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty, adding that this extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its Coast Guard – anywhere in the South China Sea.

Asked whether the use of water cannon and actions that led to the collision constitute an armed attack, Miller said he would not “speculate or get out ahead of any discussions in this regard”.

The State Department statement came a day after the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned Chinese Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Zhou Zhiyong to protest the Chinese Coast Guard’s March 5 maneuvers, blocking, and use of water cannons that damaged Filipino vessels and injured four people.

The US Embassy did not provide specific details on the dates of talks between Manila and Washington DC but said there are regular conversations with their Filipino counterparts “at all levels” and that “these interactions were part of those discussions”.


Think-tank Stratbase ADR Institute on Wednesday also condemned China’s persistent and increasing aggression in the West Philippine Sea, which was highlighted by its latest attempts to impede Manila’s rotation and reprovisioning (RORE) mission for the BRP Sierra Madre (LS-57) contingent.

In a statement, Stratbase ADR Institute president Dindo Manhit said these actions show China’s blatant disregard for the Philippines’ national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Manhit said these acts also gravely endangered the lives of Filipinos at sea in the Philippines’ maritime territory.

He added that China’s acts of aggression, being unprovoked, are unacceptable and irresponsible.

"The Stratbase ADR Institute reiterates the legality of the Philippines’ arbitral victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016. This ruling is legally binding to all parties. China’s continuous rejection of the arbitral award has no bearing on the legitimacy and supremacy of well-established international laws," Manhit stressed.

He also called on the government to remain firm in its assertion of the Philippines’ rights in the West Philippine Sea.

"It should remain unyielding in its duty to protect Filipinos. With international law on our side, the Marcos Jr administration must take the lead in affirming what is ours and must continue to work with like-minded partners to realize the goal of a secure and stable region," Manhit noted. (with Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)

China's opposition to proposed Maritime Zones Act 'futile' – Tolentino

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6, 2024): China's opposition to proposed Maritime Zones Act 'futile' – Tolentino (By Priam Nepomuceno and Wilnard Bacelonia)

Senator Francis Tolentino (PNA photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA – Senator Francis Tolentino on Wednesday said any attempt by China to challenge the unanimously approved Senate Bill No. 2492 or the Philippine Maritime Zones Act is "futile" and would not deter Filipinos from upholding their rights under international law.

Tolentino, the bill's sponsor, said the inclusion of the 2016 Arbitral Ruling in the Philippine Maritime Law by the Philippine Senate is both legitimate and imperative.

"As an independent nation, China cannot veto our Maritime Zones Law," he told reporters, reacting to a statement of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning expressing Beijing's opposition to the bill. "Any objections from China must be met with unwavering defense of our sovereign rights and adherence to lawful arbitration outcomes."

If passed into law, the Philippine Maritime Zones Act would bolster the country's claim in territorial disputes, including in the West Philippine Sea, and would help relevant government institutions in harnessing ocean resources and maritime spaces.

It will contain the general declaration of the maritime zones under the jurisdiction of the Philippines, which shall also specify sea lanes, air routes, and natural resources within the country's exclusive economic zone.

Mao earlier said the Philippines is attempting "to put a legal veneer on its illegal claims and actions in the South China Sea" under the pretext of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

‘Not for China’

House of Representatives Deputy Majority Leader, Mandaluyong City Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, said the Philippines would have to pursue its own agenda, irrespective of China’s stance.

“This is our country, this (Philippine Maritime Zone Act) is what we need, and we are going to do it for our country and not for China,” he said in a press briefing at the House.

“So regardless of their position, bakit naman we will (why should we) be influenced by their position on what we need and what we should do?”

Representatives Rodge Gutierrez of 1-RIDER Party-list, Wilfrido Mark Enverga of the 1st District of Quezon province, and Amparo Maria Zamora of 2nd District of Taguig City echoed Gonzales’ remarks.

“At the end of the day, we will be legislating for our people, as representatives of the people, and what we can say is that we will definitely not give up this right,” Gutierrez said.

“I think it's time for us to really address this issue,” Enverga, meanwhile, said.

Zamora noted the importance of standing firm against external pressures and protecting Philippine interests.

“China is known for their wolf warrior diplomacy, so talaga naman kahit anong sabihin nila, hindi naman sila makikipag-usap ng maayos (whatever they say, they will not communicate properly),” she said.

“So dapat para sa atin, tulad ng sinabi ng mga kasamahan ko, ipaglaban lang natin iyong atin talaga (like what my colleagues said, we just have to fight for what is really ours).”

‘Two-faced’ talk

A ranking Philippine security official, meanwhile, said China’s aggressive actions against the Philippines’ resupply missions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) negates its own call for dialogue and de-escalation of tensions in the area.

In a statement, National Task Force for the WPS spokesperson Jonathan Malaya also slammed claims made by a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) spokesperson, referring to an alleged "promise" of the Philippines regarding the removal of the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal and a purported "temporary special arrangement for the entry of food and supplies to LS-57."

Malaya said such claims has not been supported by any shred of credible evidence and has been debunked a million times.

"In Filipino, we refer to this as 'sirang plaka' (broken record ) Paulit-ulit, wala namang naniniwala sa kanila (They repeatedly say the same thing despite the fact that no one believes them)," he added.

Malaya also disputed the CCG's claims that its actions at sea are “reasonable, legal and professional" and that the PCG deliberately crashed into a Chinese vessel causing slight damage.

"This is standard Chinese disinformation and fake news. As we can see from footage of the incidents yesterday coming from third-party and independent members of the domestic and international media, the CCG conducted provocative, unilateral, illegal, and unprofessional acts that are unbecoming of Coast Guard officers and are a stain on the coast guard uniform we proudly wear. We hold the CCG responsible for their actions," he added.

Malaya also disputed the CCG's claims that the Philippines is “untrustful, deliberately stirring up trouble, and maliciously inciting hype.”

"Let me ask them this question: Who is executing the blocking and dangerous maneuvers? Who is deploying water cannons against unarmed ships? Is hurting or causing injury to Filipino personnel professional and legitimate? Who is deliberately blocking our ships in waters where the Philippines exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction under international law? Is it the Philippines? No, it is China," he added.

Malaya also maintained the Philippines continues to act peacefully and responsibly, consistent with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the legally binding 2016 Arbitral Award.

He also added that peace and stability cannot be achieved without due regard for the legitimate, well-established, and legally settled rights of others.

"If the hope of China is to weaken the Philippine resolve, they will be sorely disappointed because we will never be deterred from exercising our legal rights over our maritime zones, including Ayungin Shoal which forms part of our EEZ and continental shelf," Malaya noted.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., meanwhile, said China’s attempts to justify its illegal actions against Philippine ships in the WPS are bound to fail.

"The propaganda mechanisms of the PRC (People's Republic of China) once again attempt to justify their illegal acts against Philippine vessels on their so-called 'indisputable' claim over most of the South China Sea. They take great pains to mischaracterize their provocations as lawful under international law and the actions of their CCG and Maritime Militia as 'professional, restrained, reasonable, and lawful.'," he added.

Teodoro also said no "right thinking state" believes China's claims.

"The PRC's vain attempt to manufacture and sell this story falters in the face of real incontrovertible facts. The acts of the PRC's agents in the WPS are patently illegal and downright uncivilized. We urge the PRC to be truthful and to be believable," he added. (With a report from Jose Cielito Reganit/PNA)

Promotions of former PSG chief, 46 other AFP officials get CA nod

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6, 2024): Promotions of former PSG chief, 46 other AFP officials get CA nod (By Wilnard Bacelonia)

APPOINTED. Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri (center) leads the confirmation of the ad interim appointments of the 46 generals/flag officers and senior officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Wednesday (March 6, 2024). Zubiri also administered the oath of office of the new members of the Commission on Appointments -- Senators Joel Villanueva, Ramon Revilla, Ronald dela Rosa, and Raffy Tulfo. (PNA photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA – The Commission on Appointments (CA) approved on Wednesday the ad interim appointments of 46 generals/flag officers and senior officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), including former Presidential Security Group chief Brig. Gen. Ramon Zagala.

Zagala was appointed as commander of the Civil Relations Service of the AFP last year.

Rep. Jurdin Jesus Romualdo, chair of the CA's National Defense panel, attested to the plenary that the AFP officers are qualified to take their ranks.

"Your committee, after deliberating on their qualifications and fitness during the public hearing, determined that they are fit and qualified to be promoted to the ranks where they were appointed," Romualdo said.

The panel, however, deferred the ad interim appointment of Brig. Gen. Ranulfo Sevilla upon the request of Senator Risa Hontiveros who was not able to attend the CA meeting.

This, after the CA received a sworn opposition to the appointment of Sevilla who is currently serving as the deputy commander of the AFP Special Operations Command.

The CA panel will hear Hontiveros' opposition to Sevilla’s appointment next week.

During the CA plenary deliberations, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva took his oath as chair of the Human Settlements and Urban Development panel and as the Assistant Majority Leader.

Senators Ramon Revilla, Ronald dela Rosa, and Raffy Tulfo also took their oath as new members of the CA.

They replaced Senators JV Ejercito, Nancy Binay, Francis Tolentino, and Imee Marcos.

PCG counts on int'l support to solve WPS row with China

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6, 2024): PCG counts on int'l support to solve WPS row with China (By Raymond Carl Dela Cruz)

DANGEROUS MANEUVER. The Philippine Coast Guard's (PCG) BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) and China Coast Guard vessel 21555 moments before a collision on Tuesday (March 5, 2024) at the West Philippine Sea that resulted in minor structural damage to the Philippine vessel. The PCG on Wednesday (March 6) said such transparency efforts have been successful at rallying international support but have not stopped China from choosing such actions. (Screengrab of PCG video)

MANILA – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Wednesday said the country's territorial dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea (WPS) can be solved by rallying support from the international community through continued transparency efforts.

In a press conference at the PCG WPS Transparency Office in Manila, Commodore Jay Tarriela said the transparency strategy adopted by the government against Chinese aggression has been largely successful in achieving its objectives.

“We know for a fact that more countries now are engaging with our country, criticizing and condemning the provocative actions of China. And also expressing their commitment to the modernization of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and to deepening the defense cooperation that we have,” Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for the WPS, said.

In addition to rallying international support, he said their transparency efforts have created an awareness among the Filipino public.

“With the current survey results, they are saying that more than 70 percent now support the approach of the Philippine government in the WPS,” he said.

However, he said transparency or diplomatic efforts of the government have so far been ineffective at preventing China from choosing provocative actions in the WPS.

“Whatever strategy you choose, China would still choose to do provocative actions in the WPS,” he said.

Based on PCG footage of the collision between BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) and CCG (Chinese Coast Guard) vessel 21555, he said the incident might have been a deliberate action by China.

“The PCG personnel are making so much effort to prevent the collision. And the CCG personnel are just standing there and taking a video. So, it means, perhaps, that it was deliberate on their part,” he said.

Asked whether China was deliberately trying to cripple Philippine vessels to stop resupply missions, he said their strategy remains unknown outside their tactic of separating PCG vessels from the supply boats of the Armed Forces of the Philippines they were escorting.

“One thing for certain, for the past so many months, we have already been warning the CCG that they need to abide by the Collision Regulations (COLREG) and also to adhere to all of these provisions to prevent such accidents from happening. And unfortunately, they have still been doing dangerous maneuvers, blocking operations, which resulted in this kind of accident,” he said.

Earlier, several countries expressed support for the Philippines and condemned China for its “provocative actions” in the WPS following the collision during a routine rotation and resupply mission to the grounded BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal on Tuesday.

During the incident, a CCG vessel also attacked Unaiza May 4, one of the supply boats chartered by the AFP, with water cannons that destroyed its windshield and injured four of its crew.

PH to file protest vs. China’s ’dangerous actions’ in WPS, says PBBM

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6, 2024): PH to file protest vs. China’s ’dangerous actions’ in WPS, says PBBM (By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos)

A China Coast Guard vessel in Ayungin Shoal in Philippine territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea. (File photo)

MANILA – The Philippines will lodge a protest against China’s “dangerous” actions in the West Philippine Sea, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said Wednesday.

This, as he expressed “great alarm” over China’s recent provocations in the WPS.

“We continue to view with great alarm these continuing dangerous maneuvers and dangerous actions that are being done against our seamen, our Coast Guard. And this time, they damaged the cargo ship and caused some injury to some of our seamen,” Marcos said, responding to media queries given to him while in Melbourne, Australia.

“Once again, we will make our objections known and hope that we can continue to communicate to find a way so that such actions are no longer seen in the West Philippine Sea," he added.

Marcos’ statement came, following the dangerous maneuvers and blocking by China Coast Guard (CCG) and Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels targeting Philippine vessels engaged in a resupply and rotation mission to the grounded BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal.

The President views China’s provocative acts in the Philippine waters “in the most serious way.”

However, he admitted that China’s recent actions could not prompt him to invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States.

The Philippine Coast Guard’s BRP Sindangan (MRRV-4407) on Tuesday collided with CCG vessel 21555 due to the latter’s “dangerous maneuvers and blocking,” causing minor structural damage to the Filipino ship.

Another CCG vessel also attacked Unaizah May 4, one of the two resupply boats chartered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, with water cannons that destroyed its windshield and injured four of its crew.

Marcos also reacted to the reported presence of Chinese research vessels in the Philippine Rise (formerly known as Benham Rise), saying it is a clear intrusion into the Philippine maritime territory and it is “of great concern.”

“However, there is a suspicion that they are not only research vessels so, again, this is a bit of an escalation of the tension that is present in the West Philippines Sea," he said.

International law

During his intervention at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Australia Special Summit Leaders’ Retreat in Melbourne, Marcos maintained that the Philippine government “will not yield an inch of [the Philippines’] sovereignty,” adding that it will continue to defend the country’s rights based on international law.

Marcos also called on the ASEAN and other nations to show toughness while remaining committed to international law amid China’s aggressive acts in the South China Sea that infringe on the sovereign rights of other nations in the region.

“It, therefore, behooves the Philippines, ASEAN, and Australia, and all like-minded states to exercise the boldness and sense of responsibility to remain committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes and to maintain respect for the rules-based international order and multilateralism, especially in the face of deliberate efforts by others to denigrate, deny and even violate international law,” he added.

Marcos said it remains the responsibility of each state to promote and protect the rule of international law “as much as any other state facing wanton military might.”

He stressed that “peace is both a global public good and one of humanity’s highest values that no one state should put at risk, for whatever gain or motive.”

The President also thanked Australia and other nations for promoting a rules-based international order grounded on international law.

“It is the Philippines’ hope that ASEAN continues to collectively and constructively address challenges together,” he said.

“Let me be clear: We encourage our ASEAN neighbors to frame conflicts not simply as rivalry between major powers, but as direct challenges to the sovereignty of independent states whose well-being, both politically and economically, are interdependent and intertwined,” Marcos added.

Rules-based order

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Wednesday hailed the President for focusing the spotlight on the observance of rules-based order and peaceful resolution of disputes during the special summit.

“During the summit, President Marcos reaffirmed the strategic alliance between the Philippines and Australia, emphasizing the shared values and mutual interests that bind our nations together. This reaffirmation underscores the importance of fostering robust partnerships in the face of evolving geopolitical challenges,” Romualdez said.

Romualdez likewise noted that during the two-day state visit of President Marcos to Australia, three key agreements between the two countries were signed, including one on enhanced interoperability in the maritime domain and maritime environment.

“This agreement holds paramount importance, particularly in the face of escalating provocative actions by China in the South China Sea. By solidifying this pact, President Marcos has underscored our nation's unwavering commitment to upholding maritime security and safeguarding the interests of all nations in the region,” Romualdez said.

“President Marcos can count on the unwavering commitment of the House of Representatives in support of his initiatives to preserve peace and stability in the region and his courageous stance in defense of our country’s territory and sovereignty,” he added. (with a report from Zaldy De Layola/PNA)

PH counters China: No promise made abandoning rights over WPS, Ayungin

 From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6, 2024): PH counters China: No promise made abandoning rights over WPS, Ayungin (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

DFA Spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza (File photo)

MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday rejected China’s claims that a promise was made on Ayungin Shoal or other parts of the West Philippine Sea, saying Beijing and Manila have never entered into any agreement that would abandon the latter’s rights over the waters.

On Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy defended the Chinese Coast Guard’s (CCG) dangerous maneuvers and use of water cannons against a Filipino resupply mission that resulted in four injured Filipino service members.

It insisted that Beijing has sovereignty over the Spratlys and accused Manila of breaking “commitments to China” in an apparent reference to a January bilateral meeting to de-escalate tension in the area.

DFA Spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza countered this, noting Manila's efforts to discuss the issue diplomatically to implement both President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and President Xi Jinping’s instructions to reduce the tensions.

“China, however, has made references to supposed agreements or arrangements out of these discussions. The Philippines has not entered into any agreement abandoning its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and continental shelf, including in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal,” she said in a press briefing.

“There's also no temporary special arrangement existing between the Philippines and China with regard to Ayungin Shoal.”

READ: PH orders Chinese vessels to leave Ayungin ‘immediately’

Daza reiterated that the Filipino resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal are all in line with both domestic and international laws as opposed to China’s entry into another country's EEZ.

“(T)hey say that, of course, they own the entire area, that the fishing activities by Chinese fishing boats, what they're doing in terms of regulation and enforcement are legitimate and lawful and beyond reproach,” she said.

“But we’re saying that (it) would be legitimate if they were in their EEZ but they're not in their EEZ – there’s a big distance away from their EEZ. They're actually in our EEZ and because of that, it’s us who will determine what we'll do in our EEZ, is it not?”

An EEZ extends up to 200 nautical miles (NM) from a coastal state’s shore, the very same state that has jurisdiction over resources in that stretch of water.

Ayungin Shoal, which is situated in the West Philippines Sea, is only 106.3 NM from Palawan and at least 617.39 NM from the Chinese mainland – clearly beyond the 200 NM maximum maritime entitlement for an EEZ under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Daza said the Philippine government would continue to protect and uphold the country’s legal maritime entitlements in the West Philippine Sea.

“We continue to call on China to cease and desist from undertaking actions that violate Philippine sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea, and undermine the mutual trust and confidence that should underpin bilateral relations,” she said.

On top of summoning Chinese Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Zhou Zhiyong to protest Beijing’s latest actions off Ayungin Shoal, Daza confirmed that the Philippine Embassy in Beijing has “demarched their counterparts” in the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.

This year alone, the Philippines’ diplomatic protests lodged against Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea have reached 10.

Gov’t troops heighten pursuit ops vs. fleeing rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2024): Gov’t troops heighten pursuit ops vs. fleeing rebels (By Perla Lena)

RECOVERED FIREARMS. Police Regional Office 6 acting Regional Director Brig. Gen. Jack Wanky (left) on Monday (March 4, 2024) presents to Brig. Gen. Michael Samson, commanding officer of the 301st Infantry Brigade, recoveries processed by the Philippine National Police Scene of Crime Operation at the encounter site during the Feb. 28 clash between the government troops and the New People’s Army (NPA) in San Joaquin, Iloilo. One of the M-16 rifles was from a raid of the local police station in Maasin town in 2017. (PNA photo by PGLena)

ILOILO CITY – Government troops have intensified their pursuit operations against rebels who fled in the hinterland parts of San Joaquin in Iloilo following the Feb. 28 encounter that left four members of the Southern Panay Front, Komiteng Rehiyon Panay (SPF-KR-Panay) of the New People’s Army killed and the capture of another.

Brig. Gen. Michael Samson, commanding officer of the 301st Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army, said the continued focused military operation aims to prevent the remaining forces from conducting atrocities.

“This is a big operation because, for us, we were able to prevent a possible tactical offensive against our government forces or our communities as a whole,” Samson said in a media interview on Monday at the Police Regional Office 6 (PRO6) headquarters here.

PRO6 acting Regional Director Brig. Gen. Jack Wanky led the presentation of recoveries at the encounter site and processed by the Philippine National Police Scene of Crime Operation, consisting of four M16 rifles, one tactical rifle, four grenade launcher ammunitions, three bandoliers, 13 pieces empty magazines, 283 pieces of 5.56 mm cartridges, and 17 pieces of 7.62x39mm cartridges.

One of the M-16 rifles was from the raid of a police station in Maasin town in 2017, based on the result of the forensic examination.

Wanky said the recoveries may have intelligence value for the Philippine Army and support the “legal offensive” of the PNP.

The local police station is now on full alert status following the recent encounter, he said.

Meanwhile, Samson said they continued to take care of a wounded rebel left by his comrades and eventually captured by government forces.

The rebel, identified as Rocel Nabua Esmedia, and resident of Sitio Burak, Barangay Alimodias, Miagao, is being provided all medical attention she needs, he added.

The four rebels killed in the encounter were identified as Rena Rhea Camariosa, second deputy secretary of SPF-KR Panay and resident of Barangay Manampunay, Leon; Jonathan Sasi Sanogal of Barangay Palaca, Miagao, all from Iloilo; and Patrick Reovoca and Mario Reovoca, both from Barangay Alegre, Sebaste, Antique.

Security plans drawn up for Bangsamoro referendum

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 5, 2024): Security plans drawn up for Bangsamoro referendum (By Edwin Fernandez)

ENSURING PEACE. Commission on Elections chair George Erwin Garcia and Commissioner Aimee Ferolino (seated, 2nd and 3rd from left) lead a command conference with police and military officials at the Police Regional Office-Soccsksargen headquarters in General Santos City on Tuesday (March 5, 2024). They discussed security preparations for the April 13 plebiscite in the Bangsamoro Special Geographic Area in North Cotabato for the creation of eight towns. (Photo courtesy of 6th Infantry Division)

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao Norte – Police and military authorities in Central Mindanao on Tuesday laid down security plans to ensure a peaceful conduct of the April 13 plebiscite for the creation of eight towns in North Cotabato that are now part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

During the meeting, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairperson George Garcia and Commissioner Aimee Ferolino met with top military and police commanders -- Army’s 6th Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. Alex Rillera; Police Regional Office-Soccsksargen (PRO12) chief, Brig. Gen. Jimili Macaraeg; Police Regional Office-Bangsamoro chief, Brig. Gen. Allan Nobleza; and Lt. Gen. William Gonzales, Western Mindanao Command commander.

PRO-12 hosted the command conference inside its regional headquarters in Barangay Tambler, General Santos City.

“Security measures are already in place,” Garcia told reporters after the command conference.

Comelec will administer the plebiscite in 63 villages in North Cotabato, now called BARMM Special Geographic Area (SGA), for the creation of eight municipalities.

Earlier, BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim called on all registered voters in the SGA to vote.

Garcia said the SGA has over 100,000 registered voters as of March 1.

The Bangsamoro Transition Authority, the BARMM’s provisional law-making body, earlier approved eight laws creating the towns of Pahamuddin, Kadayangan, Nabalawag, Old Kaabakan, Kapalawan, Malidegao, Tugunan, and Ligawasan.

More charges up vs. BIFF leader arrested in Maguindanao Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6, 2024): More charges up vs. BIFF leader arrested in Maguindanao Sur (By Edwin Fernandez)

PURSUIT. Police and military personnel prepare to pursue members of the extremist group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Rajah Buayan, Maguindanao del Sur, on Wednesday (March 6, 2024). In a clash over the weekend, a BIFF member was killed and his father, a BIFF sub-commander, was arrested. (Photo courtesy of Maguindanao del Sur PPO)

RAJAH BUAYAN, Maguindanao del Sur – Police authorities here will file additional charges on Wednesday against a sub-leader of the extremist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) following his arrest during a joint law enforcement operation in Maguindanao del Sur recently.

Capt. Joel Lebrilla, town police chief,
identified the suspect as Lakmodin Manontok Nanding alias “Marrox,” 45, now detained at the police provincial detention facility.

“Marrox, a sub-leader of the
BIFF-Karialan faction, was arrested in the village of Pidsandawan, Rajah Buayan, Maguindanao del Sur on Sunday night following a brief firefight,” Lebrilla said in an interview on Wednesday.

The firefight broke out during clearing operations at the border of Rajah Buayan and Mamasapano towns by police and military forces.

Lebrilla said the gun battle also resulted in the death of the sub-leader’s son,
identified as Mohammad Nanding.

He said Marrox has a pending arrest warrant for attempted murder.

Police records showed that Marrox was involved in the 2020 attempt to seize Datu Piang town in Maguindanao del Sur; the burning of the police patrol vehicle; and the bomb attack in 2017 against members of the Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion.

Lt. Col. Udgie Villan, the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion commander, said soldiers and police about to serve a warrant of arrest on Marrox were met with gunfire from five BIFF members, triggering a brief shootout.

Marrox was arrested, but other BIFF members escaped, leaving behind their slain colleague.

Villan said state forces recovered a rifle, ammunition, and personal belongings of the slain extremist.

Pursuit operations against the remnants of the BIFF group are ongoing.

Stable peace, security in Negros to boost investor confidence

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 6, 2024): Stable peace, security in Negros to boost investor confidence (By Nanette Guadalquiver)

MEETING. Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson (left) during a meeting with Col. Rainerio De Chavez, officer-in-charge provincial director of Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office (NOCPPO), at the Provincial Capitol in Bacolod City on Feb. 27, 2024. The NOCPPO is part of the Provincial Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Committee that approved and signed a joint resolution recommending the declaration of a state of stable internal peace and security in Negros Occidental on March 1. (Photo courtesy of PIO Negros Occidental)

BACOLOD CITY–The recommendation of government forces to declare a state of stable internal peace and security (SIPS) in Negros Occidental, after the dismantling of all communist guerrilla fronts in Negros Island, is seen to attract more investments to the province.

Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said in an interview on Wednesday that he hopes “investors will feel more confident” coming here “knowing that there is peace and order” in Negros Occidental.

“We’ve always wanted to reach that level that there is stable peace and order situation. I think this is also based on the fact that all the fronts of the CPP-NPA have been dismantled. At least, the government that they have set up here in the province has been dismantled,” he told reporters.

According to the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (ID), all five guerrilla fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in Negros Island were dismantled.

These include the Central Negros 1, Central Negros 2, South East Front, Northern Negros Front, and South West Front.

The Provincial Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Committee (JPSCC), comprising officials of the 302nd and the 303rd Infantry Brigades of the Philippine Army, Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office of the Philippine National Police, and Northern Negros Occidental Coast Guard Station of the Philippine Coast Guard, approved and signed a joint resolution recommending the declaration of a state of SIPS in Negros Occidental on March 1.

In a statement, Maj. Gen. Marion Sison, commander of 3ID, said the joint recommendation through the JPSCC is “an important document that will jumpstart the declaration of SIPS in Negros Island."

“This marks a milestone in the quest for peace. As we aim to declare Negros in a state of SIPS, the support, collaboration, and commitment of government agencies and stakeholders reflect a significant initiative towards ensuring peace and stability,” he added.