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Mario J. Mallari

4 troops wounded in Davao clash with NPAs

Thursday, 28 May 2015 00:00 Published in Nation

Four soldiers were wounded while several high-powered firearms and explosives were seized following a clash between Army troops and communist New People’s Army (NPA) in Davao Oriental on Tuesday, the military said yesterday.
Capt. Alberto Caber, public affairs officer of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said that pursuit operations are still ongoing against the encountered NPA band as of yesterday.
Caber said that elements of the Army’s 67th Infantry Battalion (IB) clashed with more or less 30 NPA rebels along Sitio Mahu, Barangay Aragon in Cateel town at around 10 a.m. Tuesday.
The firefight, Caber said, lasted for about 20 minutes.
Four soldiers were wounded during the encounter but are now in stable condition. Their identities were not made available.
On the other hand, Caber said the Army troops recovered two unexploded improvised explosive devices, an M16 rifle, one M14 rifle and an M653 rifle.
Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, Eastmincom commander, said that the troops were sent to the area after concerned civilians reported the presence of the NPA armed men.
“The timely response of our soldiers has protected the community from further abuse and harassment by the NPA bandits in the area,” Baladad said. 

After China hints of war, defense chief flies to US

Wednesday, 27 May 2015 00:00 Published in Headlines

After China declared the other day through a state mouthpiece that war may be inevitable as a result of the South China Sea row, the Aquino administration ran quickly for cover to the side of the American government.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was sent to Hawaii to meet with top United States military and defense officials and discuss the prevailing situation in the disputed region.
Gazmin said that he will have a bilateral meeting with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter after today’s change of command ceremony at the US Pacific Command between Adm. Samuel Locklear and Adm. Harry Harris.
“The subject will be about West Philippine Sea (South China Sea),” Gazmin told reporters at the sidelines of the Philippine Navy 117th founding anniversary late Monday afternoon.
“I will be asking up to what extent would they (US) be helping us, what they can do to help us because right now we are being bullied. We’ll see the extent of assistance they can give to more or less keep us safe from harassment,” Gazmin added.
Gazmin said he will be returning to Manila immediately after meeting with Carter.

The defense admitted that the situation in the West Philippine Sea is really alarming.
“The freedom of navigation is being disrupted, freedom of flight including the US that is flying in the international territory is challenged as if they (Chinese) have already established their own control over the air space,” Gazmin said.
Gazmin added while there is no formal declaration of air defense identification zone (Adiz) by China “(it is) going toward that direction, so it’s really a cause for concern.”
The meeting between Gazmin and Carter will happen amid the growing tension in the West Philippines Sea–which has dragged the United States following China’s filing of complaint against the US surveillance activities in the disputed region.
The nationalist Global Times, a tabloid owned by the ruling Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, on Monday warned that war is “inevitable” between China and the United States unless Washington stops demanding that Beijing halts the building of artificial islands in the disputed waterway.
China has been under criticisms for conducting massive reclamation and construction activities in the West Philippine Sea.
The Global Times said that experts have warned of a potential military conflict over heightened US surveillance in the South China Sea and cautioned that both sides should try their best to avoid miscalculation in the world’s most important bilateral relations.
Meanwhile, Gazmin expressed hopes that the defense department will get the Supreme Court’s nod for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US.
Gazmin said that EDCA would boost the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) capability.
“We are hoping for a very positive verdict on EDCA. EDCA would be a big help in the sense that there will be joint use of facilities and use of equipment by both the (Philippine and US) armed forces,” said Gazmin.
EDCA is currently stalled in the Supreme Court where its constitutionality was being questioned.
China stepped up its drumbeating saying it will project its military power further beyond its borders at sea and more assertively in the air, defending the construction of artificial islands which sparked concerns in Washington.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy will put a greater emphasis on “open seas protection”, rather than “offshore waters defense” alone, the State Council, China’s cabinet said in a white paper.
At the same time its air force will shift focus “from territorial air defense to both defense and offense”, it said.
The army will increase its global mobility and artillery forces will strengthen capabilities for “medium and long-range precision strikes”, it added.
The paper was released with China and the US at loggerheads over Beijing’s rapid island building in contested parts of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.
China on Friday declared that its military “drove away” a US surveillance aircraft flying near the artificial islands, after US media witnessed a tense radio exchange.
A CNN television crew aboard a P-8 Poseidon plane heard the Chinese navy issuing eight warnings and American pilots replying in each case that they were flying through “international airspace”.
China has protested to Washington over the flight, calling it “highly irresponsible and dangerous” and warning that such actions could cause “unwanted incidents”.
Official media also said Tuesday that China will build two 50-meter-high lighthouses on reefs in the Spratly islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.
The facilities will be built on the Cuarteron and Johnson South reefs, the Xinhua news agency cited officials as saying. The latter saw a battle between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies in 1988.
Beijing has increased annual spending on its military — the largest by personnel in the world — by double-digit annual percentages for several decades as it seeks to modernise its forces.
It has focused on increasing its naval power, commissioning its first aircraft carrier 2012 and rapidly adding to its submarine and surface fleets.
Several of its Asian neighbors, some also with claims in the South China Sea, have been alarmed by the military build up, though Beijing insists that its investment is purely defensive.
Military spokesman Yang Yujun said the island building was “beneficial to the whole of international society” because it aided China’s search and rescue, and environmental protection work.
The white paper singled out the US’ announced “rebalancing” towards Asia, and Japan’s revision of some of its defence policies as objects of “concern”.

Catapang’s controversial close aide to retire

Wednesday, 27 May 2015 00:00 Published in Metro

The close aide of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. accused of meddling with the promotion and fund releases was cleared to retire, dousing allegations he interfered with the recent round of promotion to include himself in the list.

Lt. Col. Bernard Ona, the head executive assistant of Catapang, earlier accused by some senior officers of meddling with the AFP promotion and fund releases, had already filed for early retirement and will be going on a terminal leave July 10.
The Tribune reported the disappointment of some senior AFP officers to Catapang for supposedly allowing Ona to wield so much power that affects the morale of the troops.
To settle the issue against Ona, Lt. Col. Marlowe Patria, of the AFP-Public Affairs Office, yesterday furnished The Tribune with the clearances of Ona regarding his application for early retirement.
“Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Ona has no interest in being promoted to full-fledged colonel,” Patria said.
“In fact, Lt. Col. Ona has already filed his early retirement as early as first week of May this year,” Patria added.
Relative to his application, Patria said Ona has already secured clearances from different offices of the Philippine Army — from the Office of the Ethical Standard and Public Accountability (OESPA), Housing Board and the Headquarters and Headquarters Support Group (HHSG).
In the OESPA clearance, Ona was cleared of any pending case and was not deficient in the submission of his sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities and net worth.
Ona’s clearance from OESPA dated May 8, 2015 was signed by Maj. Gen. Demosthenes Santillan, vice commander of the Army and concurrent chief of OESPA, “for the purpose of his application for optional retirement.”
In his HHSG clearance, Ona was found to have no pending light, water or rental account.
The Army Housing Board also certified that Ona is not an occupant of any PA quarters.
In the certification, it was stated that Ona filed for terminal leave effective July 10, 2015 or a day before the retirement of his boss Catapang as chief of staff. Ona’s optional retirement from the active service would take effect Jan. 11, 2016.

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