Monday, May 6, 2024

View from Manila: Why isn’t China confirming the next South China Sea meeting with Philippines?

From Rappler (May 6, 2024): View from Manila: Why isn’t China confirming the next South China Sea meeting with Philippines? (By BEA CUPIN)

(1st UPDATE) In President Marcos' home province, Ilocos Norte, PH and US troops play out an invasion scenario and sink a China-made oil tanker for Balikatan 2024

LAOAG CITY – If China believes in talk and diplomacy to manage tensions, then why isn’t it committing to a date for a dialogue on the West Philippine Sea?

Different government sources confirmed that a meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM-SCS) was being worked out for the first week of May 2024, just over three months after the two countries last convened in Shanghai, China.

The problem is, China doesn’t seem to want to commit to a date.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a statement on Sunday, May 5, alluded to Beijing’s lack of commitment.

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Marcos says Philippines will not use water cannon vs Chinese ships
(1st UPDATE) 'The last thing we would like is to raise the tensions in the West Philippine Sea, and that would certainly do that, so hindi natin gagawin,' says Marcos

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'China has been accelerating its media officially claiming that the Philippine government had agreed to supposed deals on how to manage tensions in the West Philippine Sea'

Diplomasya ni Rodrigo Duterte sa Tsina: Nakaluhod nang dikit ang noo sa lupa
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“The Philippines has been earnest in seeking ways to reduce tensions with China through established diplomatic channels. If China is serious about properly managing the differences at sea, we urge China to favorably consider the standing Philippine invitation to convene the next meeting of the BCM-SCS as soon as possible,” said the DFA.

Through the BCM, Philippine and Chinese envoys – headed by an undersecretary of the DFA – try to negotiate the two countries’ differences in the West Philippine Sea, or part of the South China Sea that includes the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

“China stays committed to properly managing maritime differences with relevant parties through dialogue and consultation. Both sides are in communication for this meeting,” the Chinese embassy in Manila told Rappler, responding to the DFA statement.

The last meeting, held in January 2024, concluded with a promise to improve maritime communication between both its diplomats and coast guards. While the resupply mission to the rusting BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal in February went by smoothly, missions in March 2024 were not; the China Coast Guard used its water cannons on a navy-contracted ship, damaging it significantly.

The DFA’s call was part of its statement answering claims made by the Chinese embassy about a supposed “new model’” on Ayungin Shoal made through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s Palawan-based Western Command. A week before, the same claims were made through an anonymous diplomatic source (according to Inquirer) and a “ranking Chinese official” (according to the Manila Times).

Powerful and colorful statements from Philippine defense and security officials came over the weekend. National Security Adviser Eduardo Año called the embassy’s claims “absurd, ludicrous, and preposterous.”

“This charade must stop,” said Teodoro, adding he’d already “disallowed” contact between the defense department and the Chinese embassy following a 2023 courtesy call from Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian.

The embassy claimed this meeting was when Teodoro was briefing on a Duterte-era “gentleman’s agreement” on Ayungin Shoal. “Readouts of the meeting were released respectively by the DND and the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines,” said the embassy. But neither release made a reference to a supposed briefing.

Both Año and Teodoro denied that any agreements were made under the Marcos administration. Año said no agreement would ever be made – “premised or grounded on the illegal, debunked, and fabricated ‘9 or 10 dash line.’”

Balikatan in Laoag

In the dry and dusty ​​La Paz Sand Dunes in Laoag, hundreds of Philippines and American troops will be carrying out the final exercises under Balikatan 2024.

The morning of Monday, May 6, troops carried out a counter-landing exercise with assets from the two militaries taking turns preventing an invasion from sea. On Wednesday May 8, will be the bigger exercise – the Philippines and the US working together to sink a decommissioned oil tanker that just so happens to be made in China.

It’s the penultimate activity on May 8 where the two militaries (and Australia, too) – the Philippines, especially, will be showcasing its newest toys.

To sink the MT Lake Caliraya, the Philippines will be deploying the newly-acquired C-Star anti-ship missile about the BRP Jose Rizal, the Spike-ER surface-to-surface missile, as well as the newly-tested Spike Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) missile system.

Laoag is a crucial city. It’s in Ilocos Norte, the home province of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. It is also a short plane ride away from Taiwan.

Marcos himself had said it would be “hard to imagine” the Philippines avoiding involvement should conflict between China and Taiwan erupt. “We feel that we’re very much on the front line,” Marcos said in February 2023.

This year’s war games in the Philippines began in late April and took place in key areas – up north in Batanes, a province even closer to Taiwan than Ilocos Norte. Maritime and amphibious drills also took place in the shores of and waters off Palawan, a province that faces the West Philippine Sea.

China, as expected, had called the drills at sea “muscle flexing, provocations and harassment.”

The US sees Balikatan as proof that the decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty isn’t just a piece of paper. The year drills ensure that troops from both sides work well together at peace time, so it’s easier to coordinate and respond in times of crisis or war. –

PCG on alleged deal with China: ‘Kasinungalingan’

From Panay News (May 7, 2024): PCG on alleged deal with China: ‘Kasinungalingan’ (By Adrian Stewart Co)

A team from the Philippine Navy plants the Philippine flag on Sandy Cay, a sandbar some 7.4 kilometers (4 nautical miles) from Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea, in this photo taken on June 25, 2022. MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

MANILA – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has branded as a lie the recent claim of China that the Philippines has agreed to a “new model” agreement to manage the dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

According to PCG spokesperson for West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela, the Filipinos must not pay much attention to the claims of the Chinese Embassy.

“Every time nagpapalabas ng ganyang kasinungalingan ‘yung embassy,” Tarriela said. “Ginugulo lang lagi ng embassy ‘yung public discourse.”

“They also [want] to influence the public opinion to justify ‘yung aggressive action na ginawa nila sa Bajo de Masinloc. Nililito nila tayo, sine-sway nila tayo, dini-divide ang mga Pilipino para i-justify na napagkasunduan naman ito. Tayo da ang nag-violate,” he added.

“Dapat itong Chinese embassy, we should not pay attention to all their statement kasi nagkakaroon ng division among the Filipino people every time na dini-dignify ang mga statement na ito,” he further said.

The Chinese Embassy said on Saturday that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (WESCOM) made a “gentleman’s agreement” with China earlier this year on the “new model” for managing the situation at the Ayungin Shoal.

In a statement, it said the deal was the product of China’s commitment to properly manage maritime differences “through dialogue and consultation with the Philippines.”

“During the discussion, the AFP WESCOM has made repeated confirmation that the ‘new model’ has been approved by all key officials in the Philippine chain of command, including the Secretary of National Defense and the National Security Adviser,” the embassy said.

“A ‘new model’ for management of the Ren’ai Jiao situation was also agreed upon by both sides early this year after rounds of serious communications with the Philippine military,” it added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, National Security Council and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro have already denied any knowledge of an alleged “new model” in managing the Ayungin Shoal dispute.

Army soldiers clash with NPA remnants in Kabankalan

From the Visayan Daily Star (May 7, 2024): Army soldiers clash with NPA remnants in Kabankalan (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

Patrolling Army soldiers yesterday figured in two armed clashes with suspected remnants of the dismantled Central Negros 2 guerilla front in Brgy. Carol-an, Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental.

Initial military reports indicated that soldiers of the 94th Infantry Battalion encountered about 10 NPA rebels.

Lt. Col. Van Donald Almonte, 94IB commander, reported that no soldiers were hurt, while traces of bloodstains were discovered at the encounter sites, which indicated that some fleeing rebels may have been injured in the gun battle.

Pursuit operations were still ongoing as of last night.*

Rebels claim another summary execution

From the Visayan Daily Star (May 7, 2024): Rebels claim another summary execution (By GILBERT P. BAYORAN)

The seventh victim of summary executions by the New People’s Army in Negros Occidental, was a barangay tanod chief in Brgy. Camindangan, Sipalay City.

A statement issued on May 6 by the
NPA Armando Sumayang Command, claimed responsibility for the killing of Donnie Baculi, a tanod chief of Brgy. Camindangan in Sipalay City, on Friday night.

Ka Andrea Guerrero also accused Baculi as a “secret” intelligence asset of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Initial investigations of the Sipalay City police indicated that the 37-year-old victim went out from his sari-sari store to respond to the call of somebody, when he was shot, apparently without any reason.

He was reported by the police to have been declared dead on arrival at the Merceditas Montilla Hospital in Sipalay City.

Guerrero alleged that Baculi was also a member of Peacemaker, a counter revolutionary organization created by the AFP and Philippine National Police.

The NPA spokesperson said they recovered a caliber .45 pistol and its ammunition, a radio handset, handcuffs, and identification cards from Baculi.

Baculi was the 7th victim of a series of summary executions carried out by the NPA in northern, central and southern Negros, since last month. Based on press statements from the rebel group, their victims were all accused as military informants.*

NPA group in Bukidnon disintegrates as nine members surrender to 4ID troops

From the Mindanao Times (May 6, 2024): NPA group in Bukidnon disintegrates as nine members surrender to 4ID troops (By RHODA GRACE SARON)

NINE MEMBERS of the communist terrorist group surrendered to the 4th Infantry Division, under the operational control of the 403rd Infantry Brigade (403Bde), in Bukidnon province on Friday, May 3.

The nine rebels surrendered to the troops of the 88th Infantry Battalion, 26th Infantry Battalion, and 1st Special Forces Battalion.
They brought along with them six high-powered firearms and one pistol.

The 88th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. Eric G. Dema-ala facilitated the surrender of five CTG members identified as
squad leader Narnito Dum-ogan and medic Beije Padejo of Squad 1, HQ Loader of Sub-Regioanl Committee 2 (SRC2), and team leader Alex Maggatawan, medic Alecia Maggatawan, and supply officer Ata Manggatawan of Squad 2, Sub-Regional Sentro De Gravidad (SRSDG) Peddler of SRC2, NCRMC.

They also surrendered three Carbine Cal. 30 Rifles, an M16 Rifle, and an M14 Rifle.

Likewise, vice commanding officer Verwell Sulina Cawasan and finance officer Jessa Mae Banawan Visto of HQs Loader of SRC2, NCMRC, surrendered to the 26th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. Noel C. Calimquim and the 4th Civil Military Operation under Lt. Col. Jenny A. De Mesa.

They also revealed a hidden arms cache in the mountainous area of Barangay Caburacanan, Malaybalay City on May 4, 2024. The information led to the discovery of one M653 rifle and a caliber .45 pistol.

On the other hand, Tony LIndaan Taquin and Rian Pid-ak Pedyaan, members of Squad 1 and Squad 2, respectively, surrendered to the 1st Special Forces Battalion under Lt. Col. Roger Anthony E. Nuylan Jr at the boundary of Bukidnon and Lanao del Sur.

They brought along with them an M16 rifle and an M203 grenade launcher.

In a statement, 4ID commander Major General Jose Maria R. Cuerpo II said the recent surrenders only indicated the state of disintegration of the CTG in terms of manpower and influence not only in Bukidnon but also in Caraga Region.

“After the influx of CTG surrenderers in Caraga particularly notorious leaders, these recent series of surrender manifest the realization of the low-ranking members of their group’s eventual collapse as they are crumbling and in total disarray,” Cuerpo said.

He said the only option available for the remaining NPA members would be to surrender.

” It is high time to abandon the fighting, start embracing the fact that we can only achieve genuine peace and effect change in an environment of peace,” he added.

Expectations high on revitalized PH-US ties

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): Expectations high on revitalized PH-US ties (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

IMPROVED ECONOMY. The Filipino Community Center in Waipahu, Hawaii. Filipinos in Hawaii are hoping the improved Philippines-United States relations will translate into more economic engagements -- a boon they expect to eventually trickle down to the families they continue to support back home. (PNA photo by Joyce Rocamora)

HONOLULU, Hawaii – Filipinos in Hawaii are hoping the improved Philippines-United States relations will translate into more economic engagements -- a boon they expect to eventually trickle down to the families they continue to support back home.

“I think that the relationship between the Philippines and the US should improve economically. That should be the direction (so) that the Filipinos here would not have to support and be called heroes because they send money every month,” Dr. Eva Rose B. Washburn-Repollo, vice chairperson of the Filipino Community Center in Hawaii, said in an interview with visiting Filipino journalists on May 3 afternoon (Hawaii time).

Washburn-Repollo, who is also a professor at the Chaminade University School of Business and Communication in Honolulu, said the benefits of this revitalized partnership between the two states “remains to be seen,” at least for most Filipinos living in Hawaii.

“If that benefits us, that will be great because we are still really taking care of our families,” she said.

Hawaii, the 50th state of the US, is home to a diverse variety of races and ethnicities, with Asians, including Filipinos and the Japanese making up a large percentage of its 1.4 million population.

The first Filipino and Japanese nationals in Hawaii came to the islands around the same time in the 1880s to work as sugarcane and pineapple plantation workers.

The number of both nationals also grew almost simultaneously as waves of immigrants from the Philippines and Japan arrived in the islands.

Over the years, as Japan grew as an economic powerhouse in Asia, more Japanese immigrants successfully established themselves economically in Hawaii.

In the future, Washburn-Repollo hopes to see a similar phenomenon for the Philippines and the Filipino people. She said more exchanges between the two countries, specifically in the economic sphere are important.

“The Japanese here began to exchange economic ideas in the capital and they were all sacada (sugarcane plantation workers) here -- the Japanese and Filipinos -- but the Filipinos could not move out and become entrepreneurs,” she said.

There are also Filipino business owners in Hawaii, she clarified but said not all Filipino nationals have enough capacity or backing to do the same.

“If the Philippines becomes strong, definitely the immigrants will become strong,” she added.

Based on the latest data from the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu, approximately 370,000 Filipino-Americans are living and working in Hawaii.

Of this number, about 15 percent are Filipino or dual citizens.

Consul General Emil Fernandez said the high cost of living and housing have been some of the most pressing issues the Filipino community in Hawaii faces today. But since a huge volume of them are already US citizens, most are already receiving government support from the US.

“In Hawaii in particular, one of the issues that has confronted not just Filipinos but others living in this state is the high cost of living, inflation continues to remain high, the prices of housing is among the highest in the country,” he told reporters.

“So, it’s mainly economic and dealing with the skyrocketing prices,” he added.

On the right track

In a recent roundtable at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez said the Marcos administration is currently “on the right track” in strengthening the country economically.

“Investments are coming in because there is more confidence in the stability of the country,” he said.

“We’re on the right track as far as we’re concerned, we’re also on the right track in trying to modernize our economy by going into digital infrastructure,” he added.

With its continuous dealings with foreign partners, Romualdez said the Philippines is seen to attract more investments on top of the USD100 billion it expects in the next five years as a result of the trilateral leaders’ meeting with the US and Japan last April.

“I think it’s going to be much more than that at the rate things are going,” he said.

“The interest in the Philippines after the trilateral was even much more. Japan and the US are looking at investing on the technological side."

In a separate briefing in New York, Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo told reporters that the Philippines, despite global headwinds, has shown a “stable and strong” economic growth at 5.6 percent in 2023, one of the fastest in Asia and even outpaces China, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

He assured that government efforts are continuous to entice more investments into the country as Manila’s goal is “not just growth”.

“We are already one of the fastest growing countries in one of the fastest growing regions in the world. Our goal is to transform the economy in order to enter a virtuous cycle of sustained economic growth,” he said.

The Marcos administration, he added, is actively pushing for a free trade agreement with the US to put the Philippines first in line once Washington DC is ready to open its doors for the pact's negotiations.

NTF-ELCAC: 10K ex-Reds get DOLE aid in reintegration efforts

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): NTF-ELCAC: 10K ex-Reds get DOLE aid in reintegration efforts (By Priam Nepomuceno)

STARTING NEW LIVES. Former rebels receive livelihood assistance from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in this undated photo. DOLE Undersecretary Benjo Benavidez, in a statement released by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), said the agency has provided assistance to around 10,000 former New People's Army rebels and their families in the process of integrating themselves into mainstream society. (Photo courtesy of NTF-ELCAC)

MANILA – The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has assisted around 10,000 former New People's Army (NPA) rebels and their families in the process of integrating themselves into mainstream society.

In a statement over the weekend, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) said the aid provided by the agency includes livelihood and employment programs.

"Our department is committed to advancing the welfare of our fellow workers who are former rebels," DOLE Undersecretary Benjo Benavidez said.

He also said DOLE is committed to ensuring that opportunities are available for former combatants so that they can have "sustainable sources of income and transition successfully to civilian life.

Benavidez also emphasized the significance of the livelihood program in helping individuals secure permanent income through entrepreneurship.

"Through the 'Tulong Panghanapbuhay Para sa ating mga Disadvantage Workers' (TUPAD) program, DOLE has allocated resources to support the employment of former rebels, demonstrating a commitment to fostering economic stability and social inclusion within this group. This initiative has played a crucial role in offering emergency employment opportunities and livelihood projects to facilitate their seamless reintegration," Benavidez said.

Benavidez noted that over 6,100 former rebels have already benefited from livelihood assistance, with Caraga, Zamboanga Peninsula and Davao Region, standing out as key regions with a significant number of beneficiaries, highlighting the extensive impact of DOLE's reintegration endeavors.

"In Caraga, we have assisted over a thousand individuals, while in Regions 9 and 11, we have supported close to 900 beneficiaries," Benavidez said

"Through our TUPAD program, we have provided emergency employment to almost 10,000 former rebels. Despite the substantial investment required, DOLE remains unwavering in its commitment to further assist our fellow citizens who have returned to the fold of the government," he added.

Marcos rejects use of water cannons to retaliate vs. Chinese vessels

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024):  Marcos rejects use of water cannons to retaliate vs. Chinese vessels (By Darryl John Esguerra)

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (PNA photo by Darryl John Esguerra)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Monday said the Philippines will not use water cannons to retaliate against China’s continued harassment in the disputed areas of the West Philippine Sea.

In a media interview, Marcos stressed that it was not the country’s mission to increase tension in the disputed waters.

“What we are doing is defending our sovereign rights and our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea and we have no intention of attacking anyone with water cannons or any other such offensive,” Marcos said.

“The last thing we would like is to raise the tensions in the West Philippine Sea. That's the last. And that would certainly do that, so hindi natin gagawin (we will not do that). We will not follow the Chinese Coast Guard and the Chinese vessels down that road because it’s simply, it is not the mission of our Navy, our Coast Guard to start or increase tensions,” he added.

The President made the statement amid calls for the Philippines’ retaliation following a recent incident in the Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), where Chinese Coast Guard vessels blasted the Philippine Coast Guard’s BRP Bagacay and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ BRP Datu Bankaw with water cannons.

Both Philippine vessels sustained damage due to the attack, authorities said.

According to Marcos, the Philippines would continue to file diplomatic protests to address China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines and China have been locked in a longstanding territorial row amid Beijing’s expansion in the vast South China Sea, which it virtually claims along with maritime features that are well within the Manila's exclusive economic zone like Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal.

Scarborough is the largest atoll in the South China Sea, located some 220 km. from the Philippines.

China’s claim, anchored on the nine-dash line which is now a 10-dash-line, has already been rejected by the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which it vehemently disregards.

Commitment to stability, diplomacy

Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Francis Tolentino commended President Marcos for refusing to retaliate against the repeated aggression of Chinese vessels in the WPS.

In a statement, Estrada said the President's stance demonstrated his commitment to stability, diplomacy, and the long-term interests of the country.

"We must focus our efforts on ensuring the protection of our territorial and maritime interests by adhering to the principles of the rule of law. This entails the use of diplomatic channels and peaceful means of conflict resolution," the chairs the Committee on National Defense said.

"Let us stand together in supporting our government's principled approach. By following international norms and pursuing peaceful means, we can protect our maritime rights while avoiding unnecessary conflict.”

Meanwhile, Tolentino cited Marcos' decision as “pragmatic and responsible,” considering the prevailing situation, as well as maintaining the Philippines' moral high ground.

"Whether the said is decision is ephemeral, only the President could decide,” Tolentino said.

In an interview last week, Tolentino said Philippines should focus on strengthening its defense posture instead of retaliating against China. (with a report from Wilnard Bacelonia/PNA)

BRP Andres Bonifacio back to WPS patrols after comms, sensor upgrade

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024):  BRP Andres Bonifacio back to WPS patrols after comms, sensor upgrade (By Priam Nepomuceno)

BACK IN ACTION. The BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17), one of the Philippine Navy's three offshore patrol vessels, in this undated photo. The ship is back to patrol duties after a significant upgrade in its combat management system and search radar. (Photo courtesy of BRP Andres Bonifacio)

MANILA – The BRP Andres Bonifacio (PS-17), one of the Philippine Navy (PN)'s three offshore patrol vessels, is back to its patrol duties after an intensive upgrade of its communications and sensor equipment.

"Following the successful completion of its extensive upgrades, Philippine Navy patrol ship BRP Andres Bonifacio is back in action, resuming its naval operations with upgraded capability within the Naval Forces West and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Western Command area of operations," read the ship's Facebook post on Monday.

The works included a significant upgrade in combat management system, the central nervous system that integrates various sensors and systems to provide real-time situational awareness, command, and control capabilities.

"It was also fitted with air and surface search radar, bolstering its capability in long-range surveillance, search and rescue, and maritime patrol," the post added.

No other details were provided due to security reasons.

The upgrades reflected the vessel’s optimum operational readiness, emulating its motto “Semper Paratus” (Always Ready).

"With enhanced systems and advancing capability, PS-17 is poised to better fulfill its mandates under the Naval Task Force 41 from maritime patrol operations, to internal security operations, and to logistics support missions," it said.

Beefing up capabilities

The AFP, meanwhile, would focus on five major defensive capabilities as it adopts the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept (CADC), aimed at defending all the country's territories, including its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The five focus areas are cyber systems, air interdiction, surface and sub-surface, missile defense systems, and support systems capabilities.

This was discussed during the National Security Cluster Communications of the "Bagong Pilipinas" Media Engagement and Workshop held at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy in San Narciso, Zambales on May 2 to 4.

All the improvements are part of the AFP Modernization Program Re-Horizon 3.

To ensure that it is capable of conducting this mission, the AFP needs adequate radar coverage to detect and identify intrusions in Philippine territory; air and maritime assets with adequate defensive capabilities; cyber defensive capabilities to defend against opponents looking to attack cyber infrastructures; and missile systems to defend critical infrastructures.

Also needed are credible and capable land maneuver forces for both conventional and asymmetric warfare, credible reserve forces and logistics support systems.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. earlier said the CADC will allow the AFP to protect and guarantee "Philippine nationals, Philippine corporations, and those authorized by the Philippine government the unimpeded and peaceful exploration and exploitation of all natural resources within our EEZ and other areas we have jurisdiction."

WPS charade aims to veer attention from China's 'creeping invasion'

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): WPS charade aims to veer attention from China's 'creeping invasion' (By Jose Cielito Reganit)

Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (Photo courtesy of the House Press and Public Affairs Bureau)

MANILA – Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers on Monday denounced the continuing lies, false narratives and propaganda from the Chinese government on West Philippine Sea (WPS) issues.

Barbers issued the statement after Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro debunked the latest “charade” made by a Chinese Embassy official that there exists a “new model” or gentlemen’s agreement meant as “confidence-building measures to avoid conflict in the WPS.”

“The claim made by a Chinese Embassy official, I believe, is an outright and calculated lie, and forms part of their propaganda intended or designed to veer away and/or deviate the Filipinos’ attention on their creeping invasion and maybe other evil designs in the Philippines,” Barbers said.

“China is banking on those fabricated or non-existent verbal agreements to justify their incursions inside the Philippine territory in the WPS. China has been lying and Filipinos should always adopt extreme caution on whatever they say and do on the WPS issue,” he added.

The chairperson of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs noted that “a great majority of Filipinos” were aware of the influx of Chinese nationals in the Philippines engaged in spying activities while working undercover as Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) workers; money laundering and shabu shipments; and other criminal activities.

There is also the issue on the growing number of Chinese students, soldier-age retirees, and overstaying tourists supported and heavily funded by their benefactors from China, he said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Saturday claimed that the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (Wescom) made repeated confirmations that the "new model" for the handling of raising tensions in the WPS have been approved by key Philippine government officials, including Teodoro and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año.

China also claimed that it has records of "communication and negotiation" on this matter and that it has nothing to do with the sovereign positions of the two countries.

"I would like to clearly state that any insinuation that the Department of National Defense is a party to any new model is a devious machination of China through their Embassy in Manila, and it is curious that it comes right after their actions were condemned in the recent Squad meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii," Teodoro said in response.

Meanwhile, Barbers said there is also a “strong and justifiable need” to provide naval troops or conduct military exercises in the country’s eastern seaboard to cover the Pacific Ocean due to the “real possibility” that China may intrude and invade the “unguarded areas” in the eastern border.

“Considering the China’s aggressiveness, and complete disregard of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) decision and our diplomatic protests on the WPS issue, the country should now adopt a pro-active stance on those issues to protect our territorial waters,” he said.

Barbers and his elder brother, Surigao del Norte Governor Robert Lyndon Barbers, has earlier announced that they welcome any government move to provide and install a Philippine Navy station or an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) site in the province to further protect and defend the country’s eastern seaboard from drug traffickers, criminal enterprises, and foreign intruders.

PH refusal to use water cannons proves peace efforts in WPS

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): PH refusal to use water cannons proves peace efforts in WPS (By Raymond Carl Dela Cruz)

PRO-PEACE. Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela during the Kapihan sa Manila Hotel media forum on April 12, 2024. Tarriela said President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.'s refusal to use water cannons against China shows the country's peace-keeping efforts in the West Philippine Sea. (PNA photo by Yancy Lim)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.'s refusal to use water cannons is proof that the country does not wish to escalate tensions in the West Philippine Sea, an official of the National Task Force for the WPS (NTF-WPS) said Monday.

NTF-WPS spokesperson, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Commodore Jay Tarriela said the mission of the Philippine Navy and the PCG vessels in the WPS is merely to maintain the country’s presence in the region and assert the country’s sovereignty, “not to cause damage to other vessels that would potentially escalate tension.”

“How can the pro-China trolls explain why [Marcos] will not allow the PCG to use water cannons if they claim that he wants to engage in war and escalate tension in the WPS?” he said in a statement posted over X.

He said the threat of war with China is merely a “pro-China narrative of threatening the Filipino people” based on “lies and misinformation they are spreading to confuse and mislead.”

“Their true intention is to make us submissive and silent in the face of the illegal presence, provocative actions, and bullying tactics of the China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia against the Filipino fishermen, the PCG and even the AFP,” he said.

On Monday, Marcos said the Philippines has no intention of “attacking anyone with water cannons or with such offensive weapons” in an interview on the sidelines of the 2024 Government-Owned and -Controlled Corporations Day at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

Using water cannons would only increase regional tension and that the country “will not follow the CCG and other Chinese vessels down that road", he said.

On April 30, the PCG’s BRP Bagacay and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel BRP Bankaw were on a routine humanitarian mission to distribute food and other supplies to Filipino fishermen near Bajo de Masinloc when they encountered at least 10 Chinese ships.

Both Philippine vessels were attacked with water cannons and were repeatedly blocked through dangerous maneuvers by the Chinese vessels.

NSC: No probe on Wescom chief over fake 'new model' of China

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): NSC: No probe on Wescom chief over fake 'new model' of China (By Priam Nepomuceno)

NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya (PNA file photo)

MANILA – A ranking official of the National Security Council (NSC) Monday said there is no need to investigate Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (AFP Wescom) chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos after he was tagged by the Chinese Embassy in Manila as among those who agreed to a "new model" in managing the situation in Ayungin Shoal.

"I don’t think there is any cause for the investigation because this narrative coming from China is simply, you know, there to create dissent and sow disinformation sa ating mga kababayan (to our fellow Filipinos)," NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said in a Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon briefing.

Earlier, the Chinese Embassy claimed that Wescom made repeated confirmations that ranking Philippine government officials have approved the "new model" to reduce tensions in Ayungin Shoal.

He also said Carlos is a decorated member of the Philippine Navy, aside from being one of its most senior officers.

"And kawawa naman siya at dinadawit siya dito sa mga (and it is unfair that he was dragged into these) insinuations, fake stories and fake news and disinformation coming from the Chinese Embassy," Malaya said.

Malaya recounted that Carlos was among the Navy officials hurt in a resupply mission in March after they were harassed and water cannoned by the China Coast Guard.

"So, it’s really a tragedy na nadadawit iyong pangalan ni Vice Admiral Carlos (that his name was dragged into this)," Malaya said.

Such allegation is part of the so-called cognitive domain warfare by Beijing through rumors that may lower the morale of the military, Malaya said.

"You will create rumors na kesyo ganito, na hindi kayo handa, na mas malakas iyong kalaban, na ‘pag nagkakaroon ng giyera, matatalo naman kayo kasi ganito (that they are not prepared, that the opponent is stronger than them, and in case war erupts, you will just lose)," Malaya said.

"It seeks to advance a political objective. Which is what? To weaken the resolve of the Philippines in asserting our rights in the West Philippine Sea," he added.

Army pays tribute to soldier slain in Samar clash

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): Army pays tribute to soldier slain in Samar clash (By Sarwell Meniano and Roel Amazona)

Cpl. Arvien Pajanustan. (Philippine Army photo)

TACLOBAN CITY – The Philippine Army has paid tribute to the heroism of Cpl. Arvien Pajanustan, who was killed in a clash with members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Matuguinao, Samar on Saturday.

“He offered the ultimate sacrifice, while serving the people of Samar to attain lasting peace,” Capt. Jefferson Mariano, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division, said on Monday.

Pajanustan, one of the troopers of the Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion based in Catubig, Northern Samar died during a clash past 2 p.m. on May 4 with a group of 10 rebels led by a certain Tigeo Dela Cruz in the upland village of San Roque in Matuguinao town.

The soldier died at the encounter site after a bullet hit his neck, according to Mariano.

“San Roque village is isolated and there were recent reports of sightings of rebels, prompting us to include the area in our focused military operations,” Mariano added.

Pajanustan, 27, is a native of Taft, Eastern Samar. He and his wife, a public school teacher, have two young children.

In a statement, Matuguinao Mayor Aran Boller said the heroism of the fallen soldier will never be forgotten by the townspeople.

“I strongly condemn the atrocity and inhumane act of communist terrorist group that led to the death of Pajanustan,” Boller said.

Matuguinao is a fifth-class town in Samar province with a population of 7,288 people. The town is 105 kilometers from Tacloban City, the regional capital.

Almost all of its 20 villages used to be influenced by the New People’s Army (NPA). At present, all communities are free from NPA influence, although four villages are under monitoring for recovery attempts by rebels, according to the local government.

Samar provinces now free from NPA influence

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): Samar provinces now free from NPA influence (By Sarwell Meniano)

PEACE DIALOGUE. Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos, Jr. speaks to local officials of Samar provinces during a dialogue at the Northern Samar provincial capitol in Catarman town on Monday (May 6, 2024). He commended them, along with government security forces, for their efforts to eradicate armed struggle. (PNA photo by Sarwell Meniano)
CATARMAN, Northern Samar – The three Samar provinces are now free from the influence of the New People's Army (NPA) after years of whole-of-nation efforts against insurgency.

During a peace and development dialogue at the provincial capitol here Monday, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. lauded local officials and government forces for their efforts to eradicate armed struggle.

"I would like to commend the police, military, governors, mayors, and village officials for their efforts. The true test is that if our government forces leave, the rebels will not be able to recover," Abalos said.

Philippine Army's 8th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Camilo Ligayo said no single village in three Samar provinces is under the influence of NPA this year.

"They are roving bandits with no support from any village officials and locals. Those running in the mountains are remnants of NPA fronts and units," Ligayo said.

The military earlier reported that about 1,000 communities in Eastern Visayas were influenced by the NPA before the formation of the task force to end local communist armed conflict in 2018. Most of these areas are in the three Samar provinces.

Northern Samar Governor Edwin Ongchuan said in their province, those who surrendered have been organized into peacebuilders, employed as farm workers, and provided with free housing.

"These interventions encouraged NPA members to surrender and become peacebuilders," Ongchuan said.

To date, there are 50 former rebels in Northern Samar listed as farm workers, earning a PHP350 daily wage.

They have been planting crops within a four-hectare farmland in Cablagan village in Mondragon town, the same site where houses for former rebels will be built.

Meanwhile, Ongchuan asked the national government to build a circumferential road in the tri-boundaries of Samar to ensure the sustainability of anti-insurgency efforts.

"We are the last bastion of insurgency and ending insurgency is a big challenge, especially in the boundaries of three Samar provinces," he said.

The proposed road will connect the towns of Silvino Lubos and Las Navas in Northern Samar to Matuguinao in Samar and Jipapad in Eastern Samar.

Army dismantles another NPA front in Panay

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): Army dismantles another NPA front in Panay (By Perla Lena)

DISMANTLED. The recoveries during an encounter between government troops and the remnants of the Southern Panay Front (SPF) in Leon, Iloilo, on May 2, 2024. Lt. Col. J-Jay Javines, chief of the 3rd Division Public Affairs Office, said Panay Island is soon to be declared a Stable Internal Peace and Security (SIPS) area. (Photo courtesy of 3DPAO)

ILOILO CITY – The Philippine Army has dismantled the Southern Panay Front (SPF) of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Panay that will pave the way for the declaration of a Stable Internal Peace and Security (SIPS) in the island.

“SPF was declared dismantled at the level of 3ID last April 8 and approved by Visayas Command on April 15. We are now waiting for the NJPSCC (National Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Center) to officially declare SPF as dismantled. But this is already approved in principle,” 3rd Division Public Affairs Office (DPAO) chief Lt. Col. J-Jay Javines said on Monday.

The remnants with a squad size are no longer capable of a tactical offensive since they have no man and firepower, Javines said.

With their SPF relegated, their efforts are now focused on breaking up the
Central Front (CF) followed by the Regional Sentro De Gravidad (RSDG) and the Komiteng Rehiyon-Panay (KR-Panay) so they could recommend Panay as SIPS, Javines said.

The CF is around 30 in number and could reach up to 50, including the regional force, Javines said.

He said they are optimistic in declaring the SIPS in Panay similar to Negros Occidental.

“The declaration of SIPS is a symbol of concerted efforts of the military, Philippine National Police, local government units, other agencies, and the people to manifest that there is no longer the threat of insurgency. That the people realized that the NPA is already negligible,” he said.

Meanwhile, Javines said the body of alias Junjun/Cedrick, one of the two rebels killed in an encounter in Leon, Iloilo, on May 2 was brought to his hometown in San Joaquin on Monday.

The body of Nahum Camariosa alias Rodel/Bebong, squad leader of the SPF, will be buried in Tigbauan, Iloilo, beside the tomb of his wife Rebecca Aliparo, and daughter Rhea Rena, who also died in separate encounters.

C. Visayas army reservists hone skills, prep for external threats

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): C. Visayas army reservists hone skills, prep for external threats (By John Rey Saavedra)

RESERVISTS MARKSMANSHIP. Some of the members of the 1901st Infantry Brigade Ready Reserve participate in the marksmanship proficiency training as part of capability building to augment the regular force for the territorial defense. Brig. Gen. Erik Miguel Espina on Monday (May 6, 2024) said the activity rekindled the eagerness of the ordinary citizens to wear the Army uniform and prepare for any eventualities amid territorial row in the West Philippine Sea. (Photo courtesy of Army Reservist Sgt. Princess Jean Pepito)

CEBU CITY – The reserve force of the Philippine Army is getting ready for capability building to augment the regular force in event they need help to protect the country’s territorial integrity.

Brig. Gen. Erik Miguel Espina, head of the 1901st Infantry Brigade Ready Reserve based in Cebu, said over 100 Army reservists joined the marksmanship proficiency training over the weekend supervised by the Army Reserve Command’s 7th Regional Community Defense Group.

Espina, a media practitioner, said the activity sparked the ordinary citizens’ eagerness to defend the Philippines in case of any external threat amid the continuing row in the West Philippine Sea.

“The reservists of the Philippine Army left their homes just to join the annual recording of their rifle skills, with a mission in mind to keep themselves abreast of the latest concept of defense to secure our family, country, and independence,” Espina told the Philippine News Agency.

The activity is just part of a regular readiness test of the Army reservists in Cebu to arm the citizen armed forces with ample skills to defend the land when needed.

Among the reservists who joined the annual marksmanship training are government officials like Major Thadeo Jonkie Ouano who is the current board member of Cebu’s sixth district and Undersecretary Terence Calatrava, head of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas.

Ouano is the current intelligence officer of the Reserve Brigade while Calatrava is part of the Security Platoon of the unit.

Mandaue City Lone District Rep. Emmarie Ouano-Dizon also holds the position as Executive Officer of the Brigade.

NPA losing manpower, influence in NorMin, Caraga - 4ID chief

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): NPA losing manpower, influence in NorMin, Caraga - 4ID chief (By Nef Luczon)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The Philippine Army declared that the communist rebels' influence and armed personnel are "disintegrating" in Northern Mindanao and Caraga regions, which fall under the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) area of responsibility.

In a statement on Monday, Major General Jose Maria R. Cuerpo II 4ID commander, said that military brigade units reporting successful operations against the communist New People's Army (NPA) often led to a series of surrenders, with the help of the community residents providing information, which isolated the rebel groups.

Cuerpo noted that the surrender of NPA leaders would create a ripple effect within a rebel unit, prompting disintegration as leaderless low-ranking members follow suit and turn themselves in.

"These recent series of surrenders manifest the realization of the low-ranking members of their group's eventual collapse, as they are crumbling and in total disarray," the Army official said.

The 403rd Infantry Brigade facilitated the latest surrender on May 3, negotiating the surrender of nine NPA combatants in Bukidnon province to the Army's 88th and 26 infantry battalions.

Meanwhile, on the same day, two other NPA combatants, identified as Tony Lindaan Taquin and Rian Pid-ak Pedyaan, also surrendered to Army forces at the boundary of Bukidnon and Lanao del Sur provinces.

The two rebels brought along with them an M16 rifle and an M79 grenade launcher during their surrender.

PH, US troops' live fire exercise in Laoag promotes combat readiness

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6, 2024): PH, US troops' live fire exercise in Laoag promotes combat readiness (By Leilanie Adriano)

JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES. 'Balikatan' 2024 executive agent Col. Michael Logico briefs observers of the joint exercises at the La Paz sand dunes in Laoag City on Monday (May 6, 2024). The exercises will culminate with a maritime strike on May 8. (Photo by Leilanie Adriano)

LAOAG CITY – Joint forces of the Philippines and the United States military showed their prowess in a counter-landing live fire exercise held at the Metro La Paz dunes in this city on Monday.

Using high-powered arms to thwart a simulated invasion in the coastal waters of Ilocos Norte which is located near Taiwan, about 200 soldiers took turns "defending" the shores of Metro La Paz as they launched Javelin missiles and fired howitzers and machine guns to prevent an enemy attack.

The live exercise was set last year in the Ilocos waters but it was moved to Zambales due to unforeseen events including some logistical concerns, which at that time, have not been resolved yet.

After a year of planning and preparation, "Balikatan" 2024 executive agent Col. Michael Logico told local reporters they decided to return to Ilocos Norte due to the exponential value of the location.

“The waters in Ilocos Norte provide the best training venue for both our AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the United States Armed Forces not to mention, it has better weather conditions compared to other areas,” said Logico.

He said this year’s US-Philippines Balikatan exercise has evolved from being a tactical unit training venue to an operational level which means more complex activities and complicated exercises were undertaken to improve the combat readiness of all service components involving the Army, Navy and Air Force personnel.

In a separate interview after the live fire exercise, US Marines Lt. Gen. Michael Cederholm, commanding general of 1 Marine Expeditionary Force and of the joint task force Balikatan, said the exercises aim to improve the forces' operation alongside each other and were not directed against a specific adversary.

“We don’t do this for any third party. We don’t do this for messaging. We do this to create interoperability,” Cederholm said.

He said Balikatan is designed to prepare both the Filipino and American troops to defend Philippine sovereignty. "If anyone has any question about whether we’re ready, we answered that today. We’re ready. And we always will be,” he said.

Meanwhile, Philippine Exercise Director Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine recognized the critical component of the Balikatan Exercise to enhance interoperability and readiness in safeguarding stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The successful execution of this exercise underscores the strengthened cooperation between the Philippines and the United States in defending our shores. With every iteration, we continuously leverage the valuable insights and expertise gained to ensure regional security and stability,” Licudine said.

Smaller contingents are also located in the coastal towns of Burgos and Pasuquin where a village health center is being constructed in Barangay Davila as part of the exercise’s humanitarian project for the community.

Some 600 combined forces of the Philippines and the United States are participating in the exercises which will culminate with a “maritime strike” on Wednesday in the coastal waters of Metro La Paz.

Huge success

Cederholm also touted the activity as a “huge success”.

"The weapons were spot on, they were literally hitting the targets, which were pretty small, the fields of fire were very effective, they were overlapping but they were conducted in a safe manner, there was a layer of defense that started way out, worked it ways all the back in the shore and then to chase them back off as we repel the attacks of high effective manner," he added.

He said this activity is a "great opportunity" for the Philippines to beef up its defense capabilities, as part of the implementation of its Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept. (with report from Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)