Sunday, May 26, 2024

Marcos: China policy vs ‘trespassers’ in South China Sea unacceptable

From the Philippine News Agency (May 19, 2024): Marcos: China policy vs ‘trespassers’ in South China Sea unacceptable (By Filane Mikee Cervantes and Darryl John Esguerra)

MEDIA INTERVIEW. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. talks to the media on the sidelines of the signing of alliance between the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP) and Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) in Makati City on Saturday (May 18, 2024). Marcos said China’s new policy empowering its coast guard to detain foreigners trespassing in the South China Sea is "completely unacceptable." (RTVM Screengrab)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Saturday said China’s policy to detain alleged “trespassers” in the South China Sea, including those overlapping in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), is “completely unacceptable.”

On the sidelines of the signing of alliance between the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP) and Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) in Makati City, Marcos said the government will take "whatever measures" to protect Filipinos amid escalating tensions in the contested waters.

“That kind of action would be completely unacceptable to the Philippines,” Marcos said.

“I do not talk about the operational details so leave it to us. But the position that we take is that, that is unacceptable and we will take whatever measures to always protect our citizens,” he added.

China reportedly empowered its own Coast Guard to detain for up to 60 days without trial foreign trespassers who will cross what it claims are its borders.

This came after the Atin To Coalition successfully finished its civilian convoy to Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

China’s new trespass rule met fierce criticism from Philippine authorities.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Jay Tarriela said the move was just another “illegal action” by Beijing justified by its “imaginary” nine-dash-line claim to nearly all of the South China Sea.

In 2016, the Philippines won a landmark international arbitration case against China, invalidating its ambitious nine-dash line claim that owns the entire South China Sea.

Philippine lawmakers also blasted China’s new rule with Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri saying that it violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which protects the freedom of navigation at sea.

Speaker Martin Romualdez, for his part, vowed that the House of Representatives would oppose any arrest made by China within the 200-nautical mile EEZ of the Philippines.

“The House of the Filipino people will not tolerate any arrests of our citizens or fishermen within our own Exclusive Economic Zone. We will fiercely defend our sovereignty and ensure the safety and rights of our people,” Romualdez said.

He described China's aggressive pronouncements as "blatant escalation of tensions" in the WPS.

"These unilateral actions flagrantly violate international law and the established norms that guide the Philippines and other law-abiding nations with claims in the South China Sea,” Romualdez said.

"China must respect international rulings and act as a responsible member of the global community, rather than imposing its own laws unilaterally and bullying other nations,” he added.

Marcos seeks probe on China’s wiretapping of AFP official

From the Philippine News Agency (May 19, 2024): Marcos seeks probe on China’s wiretapping of AFP official (By Darryl John Esguerra)

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (PNA photo by Joan Bondoc)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has vowed to investigate the alleged wiretapping of the Chinese Embassy in Manila against the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Command (AFP-Wescom).

“We are looking into it because the fact of the matter is there have been mentions of a tape to (try to confirm) confirms that there was this agreement (between China and the Philippines),” Marcos said in a media interview Saturday night.

Marcos said it is still early to come up with any conclusion until he hears for himself the contents of the supposed wiretapping.

“It’s in the possession of the Chinese Embassy and the Chinese government. So, until they release it, it’s harder to believe and to accept that there was an agreement,” he said.

Asked if he has directed government agencies to be extra careful about it, Marcos said “there is no directive like that” but emphasized an existing policy on the issue.

The President added that the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) are working together to make the country’s cybersecurity more robust and secure.

He said they are already planning to bring some Filipino experts, who are among the world’s best, to work for the government as “free agents” to help bolster the country’s cybersecurity.

"Some of the best people in cybersecurity are actually Filipino but they are civilians so we have to bring some of them,” Marcos said.

"I don’t know if we can find an arrangement for them to work for the military, to work for government agencies. Maybe as a free agent? We’ll see,” he added.

‘Administrative decision’

Meanwhile, the AFP said the designation of Rear Admiral Alfonso Torres Jr. as the new Wescom chief is an "administrative decision."

Torres replaced former Wescom chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos who has been on personal leave since May 7.

No reason was given by the military for Carlos' leave, with Torres being placed as acting Wescom chief.

Carlos was earlier tagged by the Chinese Embassy as the military official who allegedly agreed with their "new model" arrangement in managing the tensions in Ayungin Shoal, with the approval of ranking government officials.

"It is part of the ongoing changes in leadership and key positions within the military which is necessary for the institution to adapt to evolving security environment and effectively address emerging challenges," AFP public affairs office chief Col. Xerxes Trinidad said.

He added Wescom's critical role requires a fulltime leader that has more years in service to provide continuity and strategic direction.

"We offer our full support to Rear Admiral Torres and we are confident in his ability to lead with distinction," Trinidad said. (with reports from Filane Cervantes/Priam F. Nepomuceno/PNA)

PH Air Force gets 2 more T-129 attack helicopters

From the Philippine News Agency (May 20, 2024): PH Air Force gets 2 more T-129 attack helicopters (By Priam Nepomuceno)

NEW 'ATAK' HELICOPTERS. One of the two newly-delivered Turkish Aerospace Industries T-129 in Sangley Point, Cavite in this May 17, 2024 photo. The Philippine Air Force's (PAF) 15th Strike Wing received two more Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T-129 "Atak" helicopters which would be used for territorial defense, aerial surveillance and reconnaissance, counter-insurgency combat operations, and combat support operations. (Photo courtesy of the PAF's 15th Strike Wing)

MANILA – The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has formally received two more Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T-129 'Atak' helicopters.

In a Facebook (FB) post on Sunday, the PAF's 15th Strike Wing said it received the two helicopters, with tail numbers 1505 and 1506, in simple rites presided by Air Command Command chief Maj. Gen. Araus Robert F. Musico and 15th Strike Wing commander Brig, Gen. Juliano C. Llarenas at the Atienza Air Base, Sangley Point, Cavite City on May 17.

"The two T-129 'Atak' helicopters performed a low pass before landing on the active runway. Upon taxiing and exiting, a water cannon salute was rendered to the two aircraft - the traditional and ceremonial welcome to honor the newly procured attack helicopters of the 15th Strike Wing," it added.

"The acquisition of the T-129 'Atak' helicopters was part of the priority projects under Horizon 2 of the AFP Modernization Program. The T-129s with tail numbers 1505 and 1506, which were delivered last Nov. 29, 2023, are the fifth and sixth T-129 'Atak' helicopters acquired through negotiated (government-to-government) procurement with Turkey. These dedicated attack helicopters are expected to enhance the combat operational capability of PAF and address the capability gap identified in urban warfare," the FB post added.

The contract for the six T-129 "Atak" helicopters is worth USD269 million which was signed on July 20, 2020.

The first two T-129 choppers were delivered on March 9, 2022, while the second batch of two were delivered in December of the same year.

These helicopters will be utilized for territorial defense, aerial surveillance and reconnaissance, counter-insurgency combat operations and combat support operations.

OPAPRU: P4-B PAMANA funds to hasten dev't in conflict-hit areas

From the Philippine News Agency (May 20, 2024): OPAPRU: P4-B PAMANA funds to hasten dev't in conflict-hit areas (By Priam Nepomuceno)

OPAPRU Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. (PNA file photo)

MANILA – The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) on Monday thanked the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for the release of PHP4 billion in funds for the implementation of key projects under its "Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan" (PAMANA) program.

OPAPRU chief Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the budget will make possible the delivery of much-needed infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges, and create livelihood and job opportunities particularly in underserved, last-mile communities and areas devastated by previous conflicts.

“While we strive to push forward, build on and sustain the gains of peace, it is also crucial to implement development interventions that aim to improve the lives of our people, particularly the former combatants, and enable them to achieve their full potential,” Galvez said in a news release.

He said peace and development must always go hand in hand and must be pursued simultaneously.

It is the reason why the OPAPRU is working closely with national line agencies as this strategy will enable the government to maximize its resources and carry out strategic interventions where they can have the most impact, Galvez said.

The collaborative approach, as exemplified by the cooperation with DBM and the Public Works and Highways, Social Welfare and Development, Agriculture, and Labor departments, reflects the Marcos administration's whole-of-government and whole-of-nation approach.

Implemented in 2011, the PAMANA Program is a key component of the government’s peace, reconciliation, and unity agenda.

AFP chief, US Pacific Fleet head tackle regional peace efforts

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2024): AFP chief, US Pacific Fleet head tackle regional peace efforts (By Priam Nepomuceno)

ENDURING ALLIANCE. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. (right) and US Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Stephen Koehler, Commander hold talks during the latter's courtesy call at the AFP headquarters on Monday (May 20, 2024). The two officials discussed ways to further uphold peace in the Indo-Pacific Region and other areas of cooperation. (Photo courtesy of the AFP)

MANILA – Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. and United States Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Stephen Koehler met Monday to discuss ways to further uphold peace in the Indo-Pacific Region.

"In their meeting, Gen. Brawner Jr. expressed his gratitude to Admiral Koehler for the continued support of the enduring US-Philippine alliance amidst evolving security challenges," AFP public affairs office chief Col. Xerxes Trinidad said in a statement Tuesday.

During their meeting at the AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Brawner reaffirmed the AFP’s dedication to upholding a free and stable Indo-Pacific region through rules-based approaches under international law.

Trinidad said Koehler's courtesy call reflects the AFP’s strategic partnership to strengthen interoperability and further advance combined capabilities in the maritime domain.

The two officials also discussed the conduct of the first-ever multilateral maritime cooperative activity and its regular holding between Manila and Washington D.C.

These activities are part of the ongoing effort to underscore collective commitment to regional and international cooperation in safeguarding the Indo-Pacific Region.

Ranking Marine officer named AFP deputy chief for ops

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22, 2024): Ranking Marine officer named AFP deputy chief for ops (By Priam Nepomuceno)

NEW OPERATIONS CHIEF. Brig. Gen. Jimmy Larida (left), newly appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deputy chief of staff for operations receives the symbol of leadership from AFP deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Charlton Sean Gaerlan (right) during the change of chief of office ceremony at the AFP headquarters on Tuesday (May 21, 2024). Larida replaced Air Force Col. Jessie Banastao, who served as AFP deputy chief of staff for operations in an acting capacity. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

MANILA – A ranking official of the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) has risen to one of the key positions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

In a statement Wednesday, AFP public affairs office chief Col. Xerxes Trinidad said Marine Brig. Gen. Jimmy Larida assumed the military's deputy chief of staff for operations (J3) post during short ceremonies in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Tuesday.

Larida succeeded Air Force Col. Jessie Banastao, who was designated as AFP deputy chief of staff for operations in an acting capacity.

"Prior (to his) assumption, Brig.Gen. Larida commanded the AFP's Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTF NCR). He also served as the deputy commandant of the PMC; commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade; commander of Jolo Internal Defense Force; and chief of staff of JTF-Comet, Westmincom (Western Mindanao Command)," Trinidad added.

Larida is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1991 and holds a Master’s degree in Military Studies from the United States Marine Corps University in Virginia.

Key NPA member in 2005 Quezon province attacks convicted of rebellion

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22, 2024): Key NPA member in 2005 Quezon province attacks convicted of rebellion (By Benjamin Pulta)

MANILA – The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday announced the conviction of a key member of the Communist Party of the Philippines - New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) who led a series of attacks against military personnel and communication facilities in Quezon province, nineteen years ago.

In a decision promulgated last May 16, 2024, the Taguig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 266 found Maria Salome Crisostomo, also known as Maria Salome Crisostomo Ujano, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rebellion and sentenced her up to 17 years imprisonment.

Based on records, Ujano and several others identified as officers and members of the CPP-NPA led attacks against government soldiers in Quezon province from November 19 - 25, 2005, killing/wounding several soldiers, destroying communication sites and various government properties.

Ujano testified that she has no connection with the NPA and alleged that on said dates, she was not in the vicinity or near Quezon Province, and that she was at St. Scholastica College, Leon Guinto, Malate, Manila.

Prosecution witnesses recognized some members of the NPA during the encounter, including Ujano, being one of the most wanted CPP-NPA members posted in the bulletin in their camps.

“Positive identification where categorical and consistent and without any showing of ill motive on the part of the eyewitness testifying on the matter, prevails over a denial which, if not substantiated by clear and convincing evidence is negative and self-serving evidence undeserving of weight in law,” Taguig City RTC Br. 266 Presiding Judge Marivic C. Vitor said in her decision.

She also pointed out that evidently, members of the NPA took up arms against the armed forces who act on behalf of the Government, and also shouted “Mabuhay ang CPP-NPA,” “Mabuhay ang Kilusan,” and relayed to the armed forces for them to surrender.

“Taken altogether, the actions of the NPA members constitute acts of rebellion.”

In a statement, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla lauded the DOJ Task Force on Counter-Terrorism and Terrorism Financing led by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor (SDSP) Peter L. Ong for “successfully prosecuting the case which led to the conviction of Ujano.”

“We stood united once again in the face of sinister terrorists and conquered this menace by our resilience and unity. We will never back down against such evil who continue to destabilize the government and sow discord and division. This is the very guarantee we can give our country and people,” Remulla said.

AFP: Ex-Wescom chief's reassignment not a punishment

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22, 2024): AFP: Ex-Wescom chief's reassignment not a punishment (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Former AFP Western Command (Wescom) chief Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos (PNA file photo)

MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday said the reassignment of former Western Command (Wescom) chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos to one of the units inside its general headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City is not a punishment.

"Reassignment is never a form of punishment, its part of our being officers, even enlistment, rotational policy, it's a policy," AFP spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla said in a media interview.

This came after Carlos was reassigned to the General Headquarters Support Command, which is under the direct supervision of the office of the AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr.

"Yes, he is reassigned which is a normal occurrence for us here in the AFP, I'll like to put into perspective ano once you get assigned or transferred to another post, it's never a part of, form of punishment. It's part of our role, we have to play different roles, be in different capacities, it doesn't necessarily mean that meron kang offense or its a punishment on your end," Padilla said.

Carlos made headlines after the Chinese Embassy in Manila claimed that he agreed on their "new model" arrangement for Ayungin Shoal with approval of other ranking Philippine government officials.

He filed for personal leave on May 6 for an undetermined period that was later extended.

Following Carlos' leave, Padilla said the military deemed it necessary to appoint Rear Adm. Alfonso Torres Jr. as commander of the Wescom, which is an important area in Philippine security.

She urged the public not to be distracted from the real issue which is China's illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea.

"Let us not lose track (of) the real issue, we would rather focus our efforts and our resources and all into pressing matters which is external defense. Ang dapat pinag uusapan natin yung illegal activities na ginagawa ng (what we should be talking about are the illegal activities) China (is doing) against us, let us not let them win in this narrative," she said.

Navy commissions 2 more Israeli-made missile boats

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22, 2024): Navy commissions 2 more Israeli-made missile boats (By Priam Nepomuceno)

BOOSTING DEFENSE. The Philippine Navy's missile boat BRP Herminigildo Yurong (PG-906) during the christening, commissioning, and send-off ceremony at the PN headquarters along Roxas Boulevard, Manila on Tuesday (May 21, 2024). Aside from the BRP Herminigildo Yurong, also commissioned into Navy service was another missile boat, the BRP Laurence Narag (PG-907). (Photo courtesy of the PN)

MANILA – The Philippine Navy (PN) has formally commissioned two more fast attack interdiction craft (FAIC) equipped with the Spike NLOS (non-line of sight) missile systems.

The commissioning rites for the new vessels, named BRP Herminigildo Yurong (PG-906) and BRP Laurence Narag (PG-907), were held at the Naval Station Jose Andrada, Roxas Boulevard, Manila on Tuesday, PN spokesperson Commander John Percie Alcos said in a news release Wednesday.

The PN received the two gunboats from Israel Shipyards Ltd. on Nov. 18, 2023.

"These crafts are indispensable assets for archipelagic defense, tailored to address unique challenges inherent to the Philippine maritime landscape. As force multipliers, these craft enable rapid deployment and force projection, strengthen our deterrence, and uphold maritime security across Philippine waters," PN chief Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci Jr. said during the commissioning rites.

He also said the acquisition of these missile-capable craft, also called the Acero-class patrol gunboats, would greatly accelerate the ongoing modernization efforts of the Navy.

Adaci also thanked the national government and the Department of National Defense for their support throughout the FAIC acquisition process.

“The PN takes pride in aligning itself with the national leadership's commitment to a defense posture that resonates with the unique characteristics and needs of our geographic configuration. Despite an enduring journey, the PN remains committed to improving our physical capabilities and, more importantly, our collective consciousness to be at the forefront of our comprehensive archipelagic defense," he added.

The vessels were named after two Medal of Valor awardees, the late Marine Staff Sgt. Herminigildo Yurong and Marine Cpl. Laurence Narag, who perished in the line of duty during the Philippine government's campaign against Moro rebels in Mindanao in 2000.

The PN now has six Acero-class gunboats in service.

The first two Acero-class gunboats, the BRP Nestor Acero (PG-901) and BRP Lolinato To-Ong (PG-902), were delivered in September 2022 and commissioned two months later.

The third and fourth FAICs, the BRP Gener Tinangag (PG-903) and BRP Domingo Deluana (PG-905), were delivered in April 2023 and commissioned the following month.

The remaining three Acero-class gunboats are expected to be constructed and delivered within the next two years.

Four of the ships will be armed with NLOS missiles with pinpoint accuracy and a range of 25 km. while the other five will be armed with Typhoon-mounted 30mm main cannons and .50 caliber heavy machine guns.

DFA says no downgrading but PH-China ties ‘a bit choppy’ now

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22, 2024): DFA says no downgrading but PH-China ties ‘a bit choppy’ now (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

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

MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday the Philippines has yet come to a point where it would have to downgrade its relations with Beijing amid the latter's harassments in the West Philippine Sea, but described the ties with the Asian power as “a bit choppy” at the moment.

“I would say, they're a bit choppy. There are many issues which have come up recently. In the case of the Philippines, there’s really been an effort by the Philippines to assert our rights, in this particular case, in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) in the West Philippine Sea,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said during a lunch meeting with reporters in Manila.

Manalo said it is China’s continuous harassment of Filipino fishermen and efforts to block the Philippines from exercising its rights in the West Philippine Sea that are creating tensions in the area.

“So these actions have been a cause for raising tensions, we are merely trying to assert our rights. And unfortunately, we're being hampered in doing so and in my personal belief, this is creating the tensions,” he said.

Despite these, Manalo said the DFA will continue to engage with China and manage tensions through dialogue and diplomatic means without compromising the country’s rights over the waters.

The DFA is working to convene the next Philippine-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea in the Philippines this year.

Manalo said this would be the first undersecretary-level meeting between the two states since the 8th BCM was held in Shanghai on Jan. 17, when the two sides initially agreed to “de-escalate” the situation in the area.

“Of course, the issue is we have to find a way to manage. We have to have an understanding on how we can manage our relationship without increasing tensions,” he said.

But Manalo noted that “in many ways, China's not really helping us to do so”.

“That's the challenge because of the many incidents that are occurring. So that's a challenge for us how to do that. But we are still definitely committed to seeking diplomatic means to manage our tensions,” he said.

“It doesn't necessarily mean that we could reach an agreement on issues of concern immediately, that (will) take a long time. But we have to find ways to manage tensions,” he added.

Pending a resolution to maritime disputes with China, Manalo said the Philippines had proposed various ways to diffuse tension in the area, including on Philippine access to Scarborough Shoal and the development of fisheries in the area.

“In fact, we’re considering a number of proposals also from their side so definitely, we will have proposals, but it doesn’t mean may (there’s) agreement,” he said, citing the need for these proposals to go through proper channels for approval first.

Under the Marcos administration, Manalo reiterated that there had been no agreement nor Chinese proposals on Ayungin Shoal and Scarborough Shoal that have been approved.

“They (China) say there are agreements, but where? Show us,” he said.

“I don’t recall ever having discussed proposals to have such agreements. If there was a proposal for an agreement, we would go through channels and ensure that it has the approval of the highest authorities,” he added.

PH 2+2 meets with Japan, US expected in Q3

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22, 2024): PH 2+2 meets with Japan, US expected in Q3 (By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

MANILA – The Philippine government is expected to convene two foreign and defense ministerial dialogues or 2+2 meetings with Japan and the United States in the third quarter of 2024.

In a lunch meeting in Manila, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo confirmed that his counterparts Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will conduct an official visit to the Philippines in the coming weeks.

“We’re planned to have meetings with Japan on a 2+2… And also, there’s a possibility of a Philippine-US 2+2 meeting, this is also standard,” he told reporters.

There is no specific date set yet, but the US-Philippines 2+2 is currently being planned in July or August.

The date for the Japan-Philippines 2+2 is likewise yet to be finalized but Tokyo-based Kyodo reported that the meeting is slated in early July.

“I’m sure that we will have very positive meetings on how we could further improve upon the cooperation we already have. At the moment, I don’t know if there’ll be any agreement signed but definitely, there will be reaffirmation of existing agreements,” Manalo said.

The Japan-Philippine 2+2 meeting will be the second of its kind since the inaugural dialogue in Tokyo in April 2022.

The meeting comes amid efforts from both sides to expand cooperation and negotiate a reciprocal access agreement, a deal similar to a visiting forces agreement.

Ex-Wescom chief on secret deal with China: ‘Completely false’

From the Philippine News Agency (May 22, 2024): Ex-Wescom chief on secret deal with China: ‘Completely false’ (By Leonel Abasola)

Former AFP Western Command (Wescom) chief Vice Adm. Alberto Carlos (PNA file photo)

MANILA – Former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command (Wescom) chief, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, has denied signing any secret deal with China.

"There are stories about me making secret deals with China and their officials. These are completely false," Carlos said in a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

Carlos, however, admitted talking with a Chinese military attache he identified as a “Senior Col. Li” last January.

"I did not forge any agreement at the level and magnitude that would bind our two countries for the long term and redefine foreign policy,” Carlos told the members of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation.

“As Wescom commander, I have done my very best to provide for the welfare of Wescom personnel. I did not enter into any secret deals that will compromise the interest of our country," he added.

He also said he did not give consent to anybody to record his conversation with the Chinese official.

Carlos said the supposed agreement on a "new model" to handle the WPS issue was never part of their conversation that lasted only about three to five minutes.

At the same hearing, Department of Justice (DOJ) Senior State Counsel Atty. Fretti Ganchoon said the Chinese Embassy has violated the Philippine laws for leaking the supposed transcript of the conversation.

“It could be considered as a violation of the wiretapping law, This is the first time that we are hearing the sworn testimony of Vice Admiral Carlos because we are not also sure of the truthfulness, or the authenticity of the transcript,” Ganchoon said.

Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada vowed to file appropriate remedial measures stemming from what he noted was the apparent manipulation of a wiretapped phone conversation between Carlos and the Chinese military attaché to make it appear that a secret deal was hatched to handle tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

"Nakakabahala itong wiretapping incident kaya dapat meron tayong gawing hakbang tungkol dito (This wiretapping is alarming so we should do something about it,” said Estrada, chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security.

“At mas nakakabahala na kayang-kaya tayong manipulahin nitong mga Chinese officials, kayang i-manipulate ang isang conversation, pag-uusap para tayo ay guluhin at paghinalaan pa ang isang bemedalled officer katulad ni Vice Admiral Carlos na tapat na naglilingkod sa ating bayan (And it is more alarming that these Chinese officials can manipulate us, can manipulate a conversation, a conversation so that we can disturb and even suspect a bemedalled officer like Vice Admiral Carlos who is faithfully serving our people)," he added.

Carlos revealed to the committee that the Chinese official had reached out to him two days ago.

"But I did not reply," the AFP official said. "He sent me a message two days ago Sir but I did not acknowledge."

He said he's willing to disclose full details in an executive session.

"Guilty siya na siya nagpalabas (ng phone conversation)? (Is he guilty that he release the phone conversation)?" Estrada asked Carlos, to which the latter replied: "That is a reasonable assumption Sir."

PAF: 2nd edition of 2024 'Cope Thunder' drills set June 17-28

From the Philippine News Agency (May 23, 2024): PAF: 2nd edition of 2024 'Cope Thunder' drills set June 17-28 (By Priam Nepomuceno)

MANILA – The second iteration of this year's "Cope Thunder" air exercises will run from June 17 to 28.

In a briefing Wednesday afternoon, Philippine Air Force (PAF) spokesperson, Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo, said the activity between the PAF and the US Air Force is a follow-up to the drills' first edition that took place from April 8 to 19.

"We have our upcoming bilateral activity with the United States Air Force which is "Cope Thunder Two' which is the second iteration of this exercise. Focus on this exercise is (training for) large force deployment," Castillo said in a media briefing.

Large force deployment refers to the sending off large numbers of Air Force personnel and aircraft and related equipment to faraway areas.

The PAF spokesperson said this training is part of the PAF's preparations for its first-ever participation in the Royal Australian Air Force "Pitch Black" exercise with actual Filipino aircraft taking part.

The "Pitch Black" exercise, set from July 12 to Aug. 2 this year, involves personnel and aircraft from more than a dozen nations. The Australian air exercise is a biennial event and often takes place in Australia's Northern Territory.

"So remember (the) 'Pitch Black' exercise will be the first ever multi-lateral exercise the PAF will be participating in with our aircraft, the FA-50 aircraft," Castillo said.

An estimated five PAF FA-50s are expected to take part in this multilateral exercise, she added.

PH Army to secure naval, air bases under new defense concept

From the Philippine News Agency (May 23, 2024): PH Army to secure naval, air bases under new defense concept (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Roy Galido (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Army)

MANILA – The Philippine Army will play an important role in the military's adoption of the Comprehensive Archipelagic Defense Concept (CADC), aimed at protecting the country's vast maritime territories.

In a press briefing Wednesday, Army chief Lt. Gen. Roy Galido said land forces are necessary for securing naval and air bases, as well as assets inside these facilities.

"This is where protection is required," he said, noting that naval ships and aircraft along with their crew members are required to return to base for maintenance and other purposes after completing their missions.

"The CADC, aside from being able to develop the capability to protect our assets, ang pinaka-importante dito (the most important of all) is to be able to sustain this protection, and the sustainment," Galido said.

He also said the CADC is a "holistic national approach" aimed at protecting Philippine territory and interests.

Galido also said the Indian-made BrahMos cruise missile systems, which the country has acquired for its anti-ship missile defenses, would serve as a "deterrent to (a) possible intrusion."

He added that this capability is being developed.

Earlier, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it would focus on five major defensive capabilities – cyber systems, air interdiction, surface and sub-surface, missile defense systems, and support systems – as it shifts its focus to the CADC, which aims to defend all of the country's territories, including its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

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

Under the CADC, the AFP is required to defend Philippine mainland territory, held island territories, and features.

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.

The military said it would also need credible and capable land maneuver forces for both conventional and asymmetric warfare, credible reserve forces, and logistics support systems.

PAF chief visits naval outpost in Mavulis

On Wednesday, Philippine Air Force (PAF) chief Lt.Gen. Stephen Parreño visited the naval detachment in Mavulis Island, Batanes.

It is one of the farthest and remote military outposts that secure the country's borders.

Escorted by Northern Luzon Command chief Air Force Lt.Gen. Fernyl G. Buca and other senior military officials, Parreño toured the facility and received an informational briefing from personnel stationed at the Naval Forces Northern Luzon, gaining valuable insights into the operational readiness and strategic importance of the detachment.

Parreño also met with Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco to foster strong civil-military relations and discuss matters of mutual interest concerning the security and development of the province.

PBBM commends JTF Tawi-Tawi for bringing peace to Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (May 24, 2024): PBBM commends JTF Tawi-Tawi for bringing peace to Mindanao (By Filane Mikee Cervantes)

SALUTE. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. salutes troopers of the Joint Task Force (JTF) - Tawi-Tawi during his visit to its headquarters in Bongao town on Thursday (May 23, 2024). Marcos made history by being the first Filipino president to visit the JTF headquarters in Tawi-Tawi. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has commended the Joint Task Force (JTF) - Tawi-Tawi for helping the government attain peace in Mindanao, resulting in enhanced tourism and business activities in the region.

During his visit to the JTF Tawi-Tawi headquarters in Bongao town on Thursday, Marcos said Tawi-Tawi, which used to be a conflict ground zero and the nest of insurgents and terrorists in their kidnapping activities, is now peaceful because of all the efforts of the troops.

“But because of the efforts of all our personnel in the Task Force, we have now come to the situation where it is peaceful enough,” he told the soldiers of the 2nd Marine Brigade.

“Ngayon, imbes na naglalabanan, ang labanan ngayon dito pagandahan na ng resort (Instead of fighting, the battle here now is which is the best-looking resort). That is a very big achievement and the part that you played in that is a very major part. Congratulations for the good work and for a job well done.”

First president to visit Tawi-Tawi task force HQ

Meanwhile, 2nd Marine Brigade commander Brig. Gen. Nestor Narag Jr. noted that Marcos made history by being the first Filipino president to visit the JTF headquarters in Tawi-Tawi.

“Indeed, we are very much honored and privileged to have you here with us this morning for it is the first time in the history of the deployment of our brigade here in the province of Tawi-Tawi that the highest official of the land sets foot inside these headquarters,” Narag said.

“Along that line Mr. President, sir, kami po ay taus-pusong nagpapasalamat sa inyong pagdalo (we are wholeheartedly grateful for your visit) and thank you very much, sir.”

Marcos said he was able to visit Mindanao because of the present peace in the region, which his predecessors did not experience during their tenure.

He said he was very happy to be able to claim to be the first Filipino president to set foot on the Marines headquarters on the island.

“The reason is not because other presidents did not want to come here. It was because other presidents were not allowed by the security conditions that had passed before to be able to come here,” Marcos said.

From warfighters to peacemakers

The President, however, emphasized that the military’s mission is not over and the soldiers have to transform themselves from warfighters to peacemakers as the nation marches toward development.

He said while the military’s primary mission is to thwart attempts to topple the government, security personnel have an obligation to advance peace by giving insurgents the opportunity to return to the fold of the law.

“Kasama na ngayon sa mission natin ay ‘yung patuloy na peace-making para bigyan natin ng pagkakataon ang mga fighters, ang mga dating fighers na magkaroon ng mas magandang buhay na hindi sila nakatago sa bundok, hindi sila laging gutom (Part of our mission now is to continue our peace-making efforts to give the former fighters a chance to live better lives where they don't need to hide in the mountains or starve),” he said.

Noting that the Marines performed their war-fighting mission to an excellent degree, he urged them to adopt the peace-making part of their goal to the same level.

Marcos was in Tawi-Tawi to lead the distribution of government aid to farmers and fisherfolk affected by El Niño and assess the needs of families in the country’s isolated areas.

DND chief: China provokes with threat to arrest WPS trespassers

From the Philippine News Agency (May 24, 2024): DND chief: China provokes with threat to arrest WPS trespassers (By Priam Nepomuceno)

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. (PNA photo by Priam Nepomuceno)

MANILA – Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. on Friday said China's threat to arrest and detain foreigners entering what it claims are its territorial waters is a form of provocation.

"They threatened to arrest. That is a provocation and a violation, to me, of the UN (United Nations) Charter," Teodoro said in an interview on the sidelines of the Philippine Navy (PN)'s 126th founding anniversary.

He said Beijing's move is a "breach of international peace," noting that it is illegal and should be a cause of international concern.

Teodoro said the move is a "roguish and irresponsible threat," stressing that what China claims as its internal waters are actually part of the high seas and part of Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea.

"Such behavior is not only a violation of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) but also a violation of the precepts of the United Nations Charter which lays upon each responsible member state the duty to refrain from the threat or the use of force or aggression to enforce particularly in this case illegal territorial claims in the maritime domain," he added.

The DND chief said what the Philippines does with its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and its measures to defend its territory can "in no way be termed by any sane person as a provocation."

China ship in Bajo de Masinloc

As this developed, PN spokesperson for the WPS, Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, confirmed the presence of the China Coast Guard's (CCG) largest vessel, with bow number 5901, in Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal).

"Yes, as of this morning (Friday) it was 50 nautical miles from Bajo de Masinloc," he said in an interview.

Earlier reports said the ship made a brief patrol in Bajo de Masinloc.

The CCG vessel is said to be the largest of its kind in the world, which measures 165 meters.

"The response will be at the NTF-WPS (National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea) level. It's a Chinese Coast Guard ship and there will be (an) appropriate response from the NTF, Philippine Coast Guard," he added.

PNP chief sees highly capable, more mission-ready SAF in 2 years

From the Philippine News Agency (May 24, 2024): PNP chief sees highly capable, more mission-ready SAF in 2 years (By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Rommel Francisco Marbil (Photo courtesy of PNP-SAF)

MANILA – Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Rommel Francisco Marbil said Friday he sees the Special Action Force (SAF) to be highly capable of dealing with various internal security threats in the next two years.

This is also possible through the acquisition of additional assets, such as choppers, Marbil said during the elite unit's 41st founding anniversary in Fort Sto. Domingo, Sta. Rosa City, Laguna.

“Two years from now, SAF will be a different SAF. We will be handling yung internal security operations. Before, we (were) just a support group of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) but right now, sabi nila (they said) the Armed Forces will be concentrating on external defense while SAF will be focusing on internal (security) so this is the bigger challenge. As I have said last time, we cannot buy anymore choppers that are not tactical worthy so ito yung pinag-iipunan namin (this is what we are saving up for),” he said.

Marbil also lauded SAF Director, Brig. Gen. Mark Pespes, and his predecessors who worked hard to ensure that the unit remains a formidable force ready to be deployed swiftly and even in the most challenging situations.

“Our missions to conduct rapid deployment operations in situations with national and international implications demands not only skills and courage but also deep-seated resilience in unwavering faith in our purpose,” he added.

He also called on SAF troops to continue to embody the virtues of courage, discipline, and dedication, stay vigilant, remain resilient, and always strive for excellence.

In a separate interview, Marbil said there is no reason for SAF commandos to be of low morale over the involvement of two of its members in moonlighting as unauthorized security escorts of a Chinese official of a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO).

“These things should not affect our mission. Sabi ko nga kay (As I have told the) SAF commander, there is no perfect organization but for you, the members, life must go on. Kung sino lang po nagkasala, yun lang po talaga paparusahan namin (Only those who erred would be punished),” he said.

On Friday, the two commandos – Cpl. George Mabuti and Pat. Roger Valdez – underwent preliminary investigation for charges of alarm and scandal at the Muntinlupa City Hall of Justice.

The two were arrested on May 18 after engaging in a brawl inside the Ayala-Alabang Village, which led to the discovery of their moonlighting scheme.

Aside from Mabuti and Valdez, seven other SAF officers are under restrictive custody pending the results of an investigation into the scheme.