ASEAN-China joint maritime drills in the works

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine defense chief Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday, March 7, that a possible joint maritime exercise between Southeast Asian countries and China won’t be happening within 2018 since the region’s top defense officials have yet to iron out its possible details.

“There was a proposal and it’s unlikely that the exercises will happen this year because we will still be having a table top exercise. Last time we talked with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) defense ministers last month, we were discussing if the table top should be in China and the real [exercises] be done here, [or vice versa],” said Lorenzana in a chance interview with reporters at the House of Representatives.

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China, back in 2015, proposed a joint maritime exercise with the regional bloc. “That’s the proposal. We are still getting the consent of other ministers,” added Lorenzana.

While Lorenzana could not say if they would push through or not, he’s sure that a response to China will come. “We can’t just leave one country’s request unanswered,” he said.

Why does this matter? China and members of the ASEAN have an interesting relationship.

While some of its countries are closely allied with the Asian superpower, several others are at odds with it. The Philippines is among the many countries with disputes over areas in the South China Sea, which China is claiming as its own.

China and its disputes with the Philippines and other ASEAN countries has always been a prickly topic, particularly during regional meets. The regional bloc and China, however, agreed to begin talks on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea during the ASEAN-China Summit held in Manila last November 2017.

The Philippines itself has been trying to forge closer deals with China, despite ongoing issues over the West Philippine Sea. President Rodrigo Duterte wants a foreign policy that shifts closer to countries like China and Russia, and farther from long-time ally the United States.

What’s next? Lorenzana said Singapore’s defense minister is speaking to counterparts from all over the region. There’s a lot to discuss – the mechanisms of the maritime exercises, for instance. Lorenzana says each country could forge bilateral deals with order to pave the way for the joint drills.

“It’s good [for the Philippines] because we can improve communication with each other, we can work on disaster relief and operations, use it for patrols against piracy, criminality, [and] terrorism,” he added.

They’ll also have to talk about where the drills will take place, exactly. “We don’t know yet,” said Lorenzana, asked if it could take place over contested waters.

Suspected kidnapper killed in clash vs government troops

A suspected member of a kidnap-for-ransom group was killed in a fierce clash with government troops in the village of Panabutan in Sirawai town, Zamboanga del Norte Wednesday, as the military and local police pursued rescue operations for five abducted illegal loggers.

Senior Supt. Raul Tacaca, director of the Zamboanga del Norte Police, said the body of a suspected bandit was recovered at the encounter site but remains unidentified.

Also recovered from the site were a Garand rifle and a caliber. 45 pistol.

Tacaca said there were indications that the armed group was holding the five abducted illegal loggers in one of the secluded areas in Barangay Panabutan.

Responding to intelligence information, the military and local police launched a joint operation in a bid to safely rescue the captives.

But they were met with heavy gunfire as they approached the location of the armed men.

This resulted in a heavy exchange of gunfire, leaving one suspected bandit dead.

As of this writing, government forces were still pursuing the fleeing bandits with the help of air assets of the Philippine Air Force.

Meanwhile, more than a hundred families evacuated from their homes in the villages of Panabutan and Sipatic out of fear of being caught in the crossfire.

Sirawai Mayor Gamar Janihim said the affected families are housed in an evacuation center located in Barangay Poblacion.

Basic needs such as food and water were distributed to the affected families.

Janihim said they would wait for clearance from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) before allowing the displaced families to return to their homes.

The five illegal loggers were allegedly abducted by armed men led by Jamilon Wahab while travelling on foot towards the village of Panabutan, a known stronghold of the lawless group.

The group demanded an initial ransom of P10 million before reducing it to P15,000 for each of the captives.

The local government of Sirawai has reiterated the no ransom policy in dealing with kidnapping cases.

AFP welcomes 188 ex-NPA members from Mindanao

188 former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and supporters from Mindanao and meet the top officers of the military and for their turn to visit President Duterte in Malacañang.The former rebels were toured to Luneta Park and Intramuros for their historical and heritage trip. They will also get a chance to interact with other former NPA members who now work as advocates of peace and development.

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Task Force Mayon, hinikayat ang mga NPA na tumulong sa kalamidad kaysa makipagbakbakan

LEGAZPI CITY – Hinimok ngayon ng Task Force Sagip Para sa Mayon ang mga kasapi ng rebeldeng New People’s Army (NPA) na makiisa na lamang sa pagtulong sa mga apektadong residente ng nag-aalburotong bulkan kaysa magsagawa ng mga kaguluhan.

Sa panayam ng Bombo Radyo Legazpi kay Task Force Mayon spokesperson Col. Patrick Cinco, apela nitong ipakita umano ng armadong grupo ang pagiging makatao sa gitna ng krisis na pinagdaraanan ng mga kababayang Bikolano.

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Giit pa ni Cinco na mas maigi rin kung magsisibalik-loob na ang mga ito sa pamahalaan at ipagpatuloy ang normal na buhay.

Matatandaang maghahatid sana ng relief goods sa bayan ng Guinobatan ang ilang kasapi ng naturang task force sa unang linggo ng pag-aalburoto ng bulkan nang paputukan ng mga pinaniniwalaang NPA habang suwerte namang walang nasaktan sa insidente.

Sa kabilang dako, tiniyak naman ng binuong task force ng Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) ang tuloy-tuloy na pagtulong na bahagi ng kanilang humanitarian assistance at disaster response.

Maute sub-leader, wife arrested

THE Philippine National Police (PNP) presented Monday, March 5, an alleged sub-leader of the Maute terror group who was arrested by the elements of the Manila Police District in Tondo on Saturday, March 3. Abdul Nasser Lomondot, also known Mohhamad Lomondot, was arrested along with his wife Raisalam Lomondot in a joint police-military operation in Tondo, Manila, according to Manila Police District (MPD) district director Chief Superintendent Joel Coronel. Coronel said Lomondot took part in the five-month Marawi battle between the Maute Group, which was recently declared by the US government as a terrorist organization, and the government forces. Lomondot was allegedly one of the key planners in the attack in Marantao, Lanao del Sur during the Marawi siege. “The subject Abdul Nasser Lomondot, a sub-group leader of the Maute Group, is personally related to the late Omar Maute, one of the leaders of the ISIS (Islamic State)-affiliated group and he was involved personally and present in the Marawi incident. In fact, before the liberation of Marawi, he was one of those who were fortunate to escape the military (from the battle zone),” he said.

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Authorities said they recovered from the Lomondot couple a calibre .45 pistol, hand grenade and cellular phones. Coronel said Lomondot initially denied being member of the terrorist group but after he was confronted with “hard facts” about his involvement in terror acts, he confirmed being a member of the group. He said Lomondot moved to Cagayan de Oro City in Misamis Oriental following his escape from the war-torn Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, before he then he went to Manila through public transportation in January. He said the suspect was able to elude checkpoints in Mindanao by using a fake identification card with a fictitious name. “He travelled by land. When he was accosted he was using a fictitious name, he came here in an assumed name, but we were able to identify his identification through our intelligence,” said Coronel. “That is one of our problems in detecting these kinds of personalities who will travel from Mindanao going to different parts of the country they are under an assumed identity and only at that time when reports are given to us and verification has been done that is the time we are going to neutralize them,” he added. Coronel said interrogation showed that Lomondot moved to Metro Manila not to create havoc, but to seek refuge and escape from intensified military operations in Mindanao, which is under an extended martial rule. The couple will be facing charges of illegal possession of firearms. Lomondot will also be slapped with charges of rebellion and other charges for his involvement with the terror group.

DFA, DND join hands to combat cyber security threats

MANILA — Following a workshop dealing with overlay networks utilized for crimes and terrorism, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said it is planning to develop an interagency action plan with the Department of National Defense (DND) against “Dark Net,” to further prevent the spread of violent extremism in the Philippines.

The two state agencies conducted a workshop entitled “Dealing with the DarkNet: Measures to Prevent Violent Extremism” last Feb. 28, in a bid to develop a culture of security among internet users.

Dark Net is a term often used to describe part of the cyberspace that is beyond reach of law enforcement.

Senior Special Assistant for Civilian Security and Consular Concerns Alex Lamadrid, on behalf of Permanent Delegate of the Philippines to UNESCO Ma. Theresa Lazaro, said the idea of the workshop sprouted when Philippine national and local authorities were confronted with the situation in Marawi City.

He said through the workshop, the country’s military and other law enforcement units would be able to fully grasp the realities of the Dark Net, with the objective of developing comprehensive policy and program responses and interventions to address threats to national security, peace and development.

For his part, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in a statement, said no single nation could fight cyber crimes alone.

“As cyber crimes increase, we must show our commitment to come up with more efficient and effective security measures to address this grave threat to our collective security,” he has said in a statement.

According to the World Policy Institute, criminals can make “introductions” to each other, acquire experts for financial and commercial transactions involved, and begin the process of laundering the proceeds in the Dark Net with their anonymity intact.

As per the DFA, the development of an interagency action plan is now envisioned to address this and prevent violent extremism from spreading in the Philippines.

The workshop is in consonance with the meeting between Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay recently in Paris, France where the cooperation on prevention of violent extremism (PVE) through education, media literacy and protection of cultural heritage was discussed.

The Philippines is an active member of the Friends of PVE in UNESCO and the UNESCO Executive Board.

BCDA raises record-high P8B for AFP modernization

The state-owned Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) has contributed P8 billion for the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during the first two years of the administration of President Duterte.
The amount represents 20 percent of the total P40 billion received by the men and women in uniform from BCDA since the state-run agency was created in 1992.
“That is very, very significant. Two out of the 25 years of BCDA, and under the term of President Duterte, 20 percent of the total P40 billion was remitted to AFP,” BCDA President and Chief Executive Officer Vivencio Dizon said Thursday.
At a forum with public information officers of the AFP on Thursday, Dizon expressed high hopes that the trend “would keep on going up.”
“That just shows everyone how important the AFP is to this administration. We want this to just keep on growing and growing,” he said.
Dizon stressed BCDA’s mandate to transform military bases into premier centers of economic growth.
“BCDA is here, it exists to help strengthen our Armed Forces while we build great cities. That’s what really BCDA is all about,” he said.
The event held Thursday was also attended by Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. and Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Director Arsenio Andolong.
For his part, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin Jr. recognized BCDA as an “active partner” not only in AFP modernization but also on infrastructure development.
“I believe that the support will be increasing and forthcoming from the BCDA. Again, we welcome such effort and initiative from the BCDA,” he said.
Padilla, for his part, said that the government’s support for the AFP boosts the morale of the troops, especially after the Marawi siege.
“We felt the strong backing of the public, and of course, the commander-in-chief himself for him to make a point to come to Marawi,” Padilla said.
Duterte has given soldiers the assurance that the further modernization of the military will be one of his administration’s top priorities.