DND inks P12-B deal for 16 Bell helicopters

SINGAPORE: The Department of National Defense (DND) has signed a purchase agreement with aerospace company Bell Helicopter for the purchase of 16 aircraft that will be used by the Philippine Air Force (PAF).

The deal for 16 Bell 412EPI helicopters is part of an ongoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization effort and follows the Philippines’ acquisition of eight 412EP units that were fully delivered in 2015.

Patrick Moulay, executive vice-president for global sales at Bell, said that initial deliveries would be made later this year. Most of the aircraft will arrive in 2019 and the order is expected to be completed in 2020.

Previous reports put the value of the purchase, which was concluded via government-to-government contract with state-owned Canadian Commercial Corporation, at P12.07 billion. The previous purchase — also done via CCC as the units were made in Canada— cost the government P4.8 billion.

The twin-engine helicopters will be used for disaster relief, search and rescue, and passenger and utility transport.

The 412EPI, described as an improvement on the basic 412 platform, comes with the BasiX Pro avionics system and technical improvements that Bell touts as increasing the aircraft’s safety, handling and lifting capabilities.

Powered by Pratt & Whitney engines, the 412EPI has a top speed of 259 kilometers per hour, a maximum range of 674 kilometers and can carry up to 15 people including the pilot.

“We are honored that the Bell 412 will continue to serve the Philippines through the Philippine Air Force for many more years to come,” Bell Helicopter Asia Pacific managing director Sameer Rehman said in a statement.

“Bell’s helicopters have been a key component for the Philippine Air Force in the past and we look forward to bringing these aircraft into service quickly to serve the citizens of the Philippines.”

Bell said that its H-13 Sioux was the first helicopter to enter into service with the PAF in 1955. Variants of the Bell UH-1H, meanwhile, have been put in service since the late 1960s and first 412s – two units – were delivered in 1994.

Five of the eight helicopters delivered under the previous purchase deal were assigned to the PAF’s 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing while the rest were deployed to the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing.

Bell was also tapped by the Philippine National Police (PNP) last year for a brand-new aircraft costing P435.8 million that is expected to be delivered in March.

Moulay confirmed statements by PNP Chief Ronald de la Rosa that police authorities were looking to buy more helicopters, but declined to provide more details other than that the deal would involve the 429 platform.

The Asia-Pacific region is driving Bell’s sales — orders were up 75 percent in 2017, according to Moulay — with China alone having contracted for more than 200 helicopters in 2017.

The Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand were also noted as significant markets. Thailand has a fleet of old Bells that are up for replacement and the Thai police in 2016 ordered 8 aircraft for emergency medical service use.

An announcement will shortly be made regarding Indonesia, Moulay said.

Bell Helicopter is a wholly owned subsidiary of Textron Inc., a producer of commercial and military, manned and unmanned vertical-lift aircraft. Textron’s aircraft brands include Cessna and Beechcraft.

PH ‘assessing’ China sea buildup

The Philippine government has been “assessing” China’s continued militarization in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), President Rodrigo Duterte’s top security adviser said on Tuesday amid reports that Beijing has nearly completed military installations in at least seven reefs in the contested waters.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the government would look into the new structures in the artificial islands as it “could be used against us.”

“We are assessing all of them. So what are the purposes of those structures? They could be for civilian use but we should look to possibilities that they could be used against us. If they are for military use, then that is something that we should look into,” Esperon told reporters in an interview.

He issued the statement following a newspaper report which said that Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), and McKennan (Hughes) reefs had nearly been transformed into air and naval facilities based on aerial photos.

Esperon said the government had been in possession of the photos “months back.”

Asked if the Philippine government would lodge a diplomatic complaint against China’s militarization, Esperon said, “That’s part of the array of options that we can take. Kaya pinag-aaralaan natin ng mabuti (That’s why we are studying it carefully).”

Esperon, who heads the task force on the West Philippine Sea, said the government was considering an “array of courses of action” to undertake.

“Leave it us. We are trying our best under the circumstances to protect and watch over what is ours whether by virtue of sovereign rights or by sovereignty,” he said.

Esperon said the Philippines would remain friendly with China as it could not afford to declare war.
“What do you want us to do? Go to war? There are actions that we are doing,” he said.

“We can work out things. Keep calm. The South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea is not the sum total of our relationship with other countries. This West Philippine Sea is not everything but it is very important.”

Duterte to host dinner for ex-NPAs in Malacañang

Some 217 of the 683 former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who had surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Eastern Mindanao Command (AFP-EastMinCom) are now in Manila for a scheduled dinner in Malacañang with President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday night.

Major Ezra Balagtey, spokesman of the AFP-EastMinCom, said the first batch of NPA rebels who returned to the fold of the law were sent off at the Tactical Operation Group 10 in Sasa, Panacan, Davao City about 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Some 217 of the 683 former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who had surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Eastern Mindanao Command (AFP-EastMinCom) arrived in Manila Tuesday morning. They are scheduled to meet with in Malacañang with President Duterte on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Maj. Ezra Balagtey / AFP Eastern Command / MANILA BULLETIN)

Some 217 of the 683 former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who had surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Eastern Mindanao Command (AFP-EastMinCom) arrived in Manila Tuesday morning. They are scheduled to meet with President Duterte in Malacañang on February 7.
(Photo courtesy of Maj. Ezra Balagtey / AFP Eastern Command / MANILA BULLETIN)

In a statement, Balagtey said the dinner to be held starting at 5 p.m. is meant to encourage the active participation of the former rebels in nation-building and peace efforts.

Prior to the dinner, the rebel-returnees will be welcomed at Tejeros Hall in Camp Aguinaldo at 8 a.m. tomorrow which will be presided by Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Rey Leonard Guerrero.

The former rebels will also have an educational tour of Intramuros and Malacañang in Manila, and other historic places.

In coordination with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), Balagtey said the former rebels will then be brought to the mushroom production and other farms in Bulacan to help them get ideas on how to improve their lives and be self-sustaining.

It will be an all-expense-paid trip, Balagtey said.

AFP spokesman Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo earlier said that the surrender of many NPA rebels is “unprecedented” and proves that their campaign against the communists is effective.

Arevalo said just for the month of January 2018 alone, some 326 NPA rebels have already surrendered to authorities to lead new lives in mainstream society.

Martial law extension in Mindanao affirmed

THE Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a one-year extension of President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law decree covering Mindanao, a ruling that critics described as a blow to human rights.

Duterte initially imposed military rule across Mindanao—home to about 20 million people—in May last year, when the military was fighting a deadly uprising by pro-Islamic State group militants in Marawi City.

Congress later endorsed his plan to prolong martial rule across the region until the end of 2018. But rights campaigners, warning of a looming dictatorship, asked the Supreme Court in December to block the extension.

“The President and Congress had sufficient factual bases to extend [martial rule],” the court said in a statement Tuesday, summarizing the justices’ 10-5 vote to throw out the petition.

“The rebellion that spawned the Marawi incident persists,” it added, saying public safety required the extension.

Hundreds of gunmen rampaged  through the Islamic city of Marawi in May last year in what authorities said was part of an attempt to establish a Southeast Asian base for IS in the mainly Catholic Philippines.

A military campaign took five months to defeat the militants, with the battle claiming more than 1,100 lives and leaving large parts of Marawi in ruins.

Duterte declared in October that the city was “liberated” and military chiefs said militant leaders, including the IS leader in Southeast Asia, had been killed.

But authorities have said that those who escaped are regrouping and recruiting in Mindanao.

Duterte, who is also waging a deadly drug war throughout the country, has repeatedly warned he may impose martial law across the entire nation to fight crime and terrorism.

Martial law is an extremely sensitive issue in the Philippines, after dictator Ferdinand Marcos used military rule to hold on to power a generation ago.

Opponents argued that extended martial law violated a constitutional provision limiting the initial period to 60 days.

However, Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling said the Constitution was “silent” on how many times Congress may extend martial law.

The Supreme Court added that claims of rights violations under martial law were “speculative.”

An Amnesty International report in November said troops detained and tortured civilians trying to flee Marawi.

Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman, who was among those who filed the petition, said Tuesday’s ruling would lead to a derogation of civil liberties.

“The Supreme Court verdict will embolden President Rodrigo Duterte in flouting the rule of law,” Lagman said.

Siding with the position of Congress and Malacañang, the majority of the magistrates ruled that the Court has no power to review the decision of Congress to grant the request of the President for an extension of martial law.

“Each House of Congress has full discretionary authority to formulate, adopt and promulgate its own rules; the exercise of this power is generally exempt from judicial supervision and interference,” the Court said in a decision written by Associate Justice Noel Tijam.

The nine justices who concurred with the ruling were Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Estela Perlas-Bernabe, Samuel Martires, Andres Reyes Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno dissented from the ruling and was joined by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Francis Jardeleza and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa.

The Court said it could only step in once there is clear showing of arbitrary and improvident use of such power by Congress under Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution, which it said is lacking in this case.

The justices also disagreed with the argument of petitioners that the extension should have only been limited to 60 days, saying the Constitution does not fix a period or duration for such an extension and is also actually silent as to how many times the Congress can extend a martial law declaration by the President.

The Court also held that the factual bases for the martial law declaration remain in Mindanao, citing the facts submitted by the Armed Forces during oral arguments last month.

The Armed Forces earlier told the Court that terroristic activities in Mindanao did not end when the government won the war against the Maute Group in Marawi City in October last year.

It revealed that 48 foreign terrorists have in fact arrived in Mindanao and are now actively participating in training recruits, adding that the remaining members of the Maute group intensified their recruitment efforts.

The tribunal also held that the government being unable to sufficiently govern, assure public safety and deliver services is not a requisite for declaration of martial law.

“When the President and Congress ascertain whether public safety requires the declaration and extension of martial law, they do so by calibrating not only the present state of public safety but the further repercussions of the actual rebellion to public safety in the future as well,” it said.

“The Constitution’s requirement is met when there is sufficient factual bases to hold that the present and past acts constituting the actual rebellion are if such greater character that endanger and will endanger public safety,” it added.

Lastly, the Court ruled that there are safeguards against abuse under martial law under the Constitution as it dismissed as speculative the claims of human rights violations by the military.

The defense and military establishment expressed its gratitude to the Supreme Court.

“With the highest court in the land upholding President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration which was approved by Congress, the whole of government can now fully pursue with great vigor its efforts in ending the continuing rebellion in Mindanao decisively,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling.

AFP spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo was also elated, saying the Court decision would allow them to perform the fresh mandate given them by the President and Congress.

“The decision is a vote of confidence to the AFP and we would like to assure our countrymen that, just as we have done before, the AFP will continue to protect our people against all rebel forces,” Arevalo said.

Lagman expressed his disappointment in the ruling.

“The majority of the Supreme Court justices can be supreme even in their error,” he said.

“When the majority of the justices of the Supreme Court fall in cadence with the President and the Congress in violating the Constitution, then the country is abandoned in the quagmire of tripartite derogation of the people’s civil liberties,” he added.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, also a petitioner, warned that the decision would lead to more violations of human rights.

“This is a tragic day for the cause of human rights. The Supreme Court failed to see the suffering of Mindanaoans who are victims of the military abuses due to martial law,” Zarate said.

More guns recovered from Sulu village chiefs

MANILA, Philippines — At least 11 rifles and various types of ammunition have been recovered from barangay captains and residents of a town in Sulu as the military intensifies it campaign against loose firearms.

The chairmen of Barangays Luuk Tulay, Sangkap, Nyog-Nyog, Kamawi and Andallan in Pata turned over an M16 and eight M1 Garand to the 31st Marine Company of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 led by Lt. Col. Stephen Cabanlet on Monday, Capt. Maria Rowena Dalmacio, director of the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office, said yesterday.

Dalmacio said two residents of Barangays Kawayan and Kanjarang also turned over a Garand and an M16.

“The series of civil-military operations in the area motivates local leaders to cooperate with the Marines to have a gun-free community,” Cabanlet said.

Maj. Gen. Alvin Pareño, Philippine Marine Corps commandant, lauded the troops and called on local government officials to help security officials ensure peace in Mindanao.

On Friday, Pata Mayor Anton Burahan and several barangay officials turned over a .50-caliber Barrett, four M16, three M14 and five Garand rifles; three 81mm mortar tubes, a recoilless rocket and an M79 grenade launcher with rounds of ammunition, assorted magazines and clips.

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Five M16-A1 and M1 Garand rifles as well as several magazines and rounds of ammunition were received by the 31st Marine Company in Barangay Saimbangon on Saturday.


Palace downplays China’s ‘almost done’ militarization in South China Sea

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday downplayed reports that China is almost done militarizing seven Philippine-claimed reefs in the South China Sea, saying the Chinese built the structures before President Duterte assumed office.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the islands, located off Palawan, were reclaimed during the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III.

“You know when I saw the headline, yes, it’s a fact perhaps, but is that news? I don’t think so. I think the moment that they start the reclamation, they declared that they will use it, they will have military facilities into the islands,” he added.

“If the Aquino administration was not able to do anything about these artificial islands, what (do) they want us to do? We cannot declare war. Not only is it illegal, but it is also… because it’s impossible for us to declare war at this point,” Roque said in a press briefing.

In 2013, the Aquino administration filed a case with the UN-backed arbitral tribunal based in The Hague contesting China’s massive claim in the South China Sea. Three years later, the tribunal issued a ruling invalidating Beijing’s claim and reaffirming Manila’s maritime entitlements.

But the ruling did not stop China from building artificial islands over Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Burgos (Gaven), Kennan (Hughes), Mabini (Johnson South) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs, which are all within Philippine territory.

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Duterte, who has been seeking closer ties with China, has set aside the ruling but promised to bring it up before Chinese leaders within his term. Malacañang has said the Philippines would continue to rely on China’s promise that it would not reclaim new islands.

“Those islands were reclaimed during the time of the former administration. They were complete in fact during the time of the previous administration, and I think whether or not we like it, they intended to use them as military bases,” Roque said.

“So, what do you want us to say? All that we could do is to extract a promise from China not to reclaim any new artificial islands,” he added.

“As I said this militarization, if you can call it militarization, did not happen during the Duterte administration alone. It’s been long militarized and the question is, ‘what can we do?’ What did the past administration do and what can we do?”

Roque said China has not built new artificial islands since Duterte assumed office in 2016. He brushed aside claims that China’s construction activities would allow it to have de facto control of Philippine-claimed islands in the South China Sea.

“I don’t think there’s been an instance when China has curtailed freedom of navigation despite the fact that they have weapons in these reclaimed islands,” the spokesman said.

“We hope not because after all, all countries that (have claims) are under obligation to refrain from the use of force, that is illegal under international law,” he added.

Roque also shrugged off remarks from Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that relying on the good faith of China is like relying on the good faith of a thief.

“This is a democracy, he’s entitled to his opinion. But I would expect that next time, we would read his opinion in the form of a court decision because that’s the function of the judicial branch of government… Or as I said, he could run an elective, legislative position if he wants to make policy for government,” he said.


AFP unfazed by Joma Sison’s threat to kill soldier daily

MANILA, Philippines —  The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not going to be cowed by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison’s threat to have the New People’s Army (NPA) kill one soldier a day to force the government to resume peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

“To live in constant danger is part of the sworn duty of every serviceman. With or without threat to the lives of our soldiers, our troops will be there for our people in the communities where they are most needed,” military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said yesterday.

“Such threat by Joma only shows the true color of the CPP-NPA, (but) that will not diminish our resolve to further enhance our services,” he added.

Arevalo said the AFP would continue to do its mandate of serving and protecting the people from NPA rebels, now considered terrorists by the government.

For his part, Lt. Col. Louie Villanueva, spokesman for the Philippine Army, said soldiers always abide by the provision of human rights.

“What we are promoting is peace. We are not after waging war against (terrorists). We want to offer (them peaceful resolution),” Villanueva stressed.

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Sison, in a statement, denounced the recent arrest of NDF consultants like Rafael Baylosis who, according to him, are protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

As its chief political consultant, Sison advised the NDF to recommend to the CPP and NPA to respect the JASIG as a solemn agreement that protects the negotiating personnel of both the NDF and the government.

“It is good to keep open the possibility of resuming the peace negotiations rather than violate the JASIG and undermine confidence in the peace process,” Sison said.

What the NPA can do, Sison added, to persuade the government to resume the negotiations is to carry out the CPP’s tactical offensives against armed units of the AFP, Philippine National Police and auxiliary forces and to punish human rights violators, local tyrants, land grabbers, drug lords and other notorious criminals.

The AFP, on the other hand, believes that the NPA is weakened by combat military operations and efforts to educate the people of the false promises that the communist movement gives.

One proof of the rebel group’s diminishing capability, the military claimed, was the surrender of 326 self-confessed members of the rebel group last month.

The NPA has no basis to arrest government negotiators, Malacañang said yesterday, after a lawmaker warned that the capture of communist consultants could prod the rebels to retaliate.

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao has warned that the arrest of NDF consultants could prompt the NPA to capture members of the government negotiating panel.

Casilao made the remark days after government forces arrested NDF consultant Baylosis and his companion Guillermo Roque in Quezon City, the first communists to be nabbed since President Duterte classified the NPA and the CPP as terrorist groups.

But presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the NPA rebels would commit a criminal act or a war crime if they seize government negotiators.

“That will be a crime; that would be kidnapping, if not, a violation also of (international humanitarian law) because combatants will be apprehending innocent civilians. The peace negotiators are not combatants. I underscore that fact, and they’re not facing any arrest warrants,” Roque said in a press briefing.

Roque said Baylosis’ arrest was pursuant to a lawful arrest order.

“He will have to defend himself in court as required by law, and he will have to prove that he is innocent of the criminal charges lodged against him,” the spokesman said. – Alexis Romero