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Mario J. Mallari

Lorenzana pessimistic on peace talks resumption with Reds

Thursday, 18 January 2018 00:00 Published in Nation

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is pessimistic on the prospect of resuming peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) –citing the group’s penchant of taking advantage of the negotiations to pursue their own selfish interest.

This, after CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison lashed out at President Duterte for “double-talking” on the prospect of one-on-one talks between them as reported earlier.
Sison, in a statement, said that he is glad that Duterte, through Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, made it clear that he (Duterte) never had any intention of meeting him in person for a one-on-one discussion.
“Of course, when I first read the report on Duterte´s interview with Mindanews I had some misgivings that he did not mean what he said because of his notoriety for saying one thing and then saying the opposite within a short period and also because of his arrogance and anger in setting some absurd preconditions, like the CPP and NPA humbling themselves and capitulating to his tyrannical rule,” said Sison.
“Nevertheless, in the interest of the Filipino people and in my sincere wish to find a way for the resumption of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, I preferred to give importance to Duterte´s public offer of a private conversation and I agreed to meet him in a country near the Philippines,” he added.
Lorenzana scored Sison’s statement even as he expressed pessimism on the possible positive result of the meeting, if it pushes through, citing the CPP-NPA’s ill motives in talking peace.
“Of course, he welcomes it because that is the only way he can show to his poor NPA terrorists that he is still relevant,” said Lorenzana.
“But I don’t think the peace process will be resumed even after the President and he talks. Because let us always bear in mind that the communist go to peace talks not to pursue peace but to gain strategic and tactical advantage,” the defense chief added.
Lorenzana maintained that peace to the CPP-NPA is when they have totally won their so-called revolutionary war to institute a communist government.
The defense chief cited the gains of the communist group during the resumption of peace talks in the early part of the Duterte administration.
“For instance in the recent peace talks they were successful in freeing 21 of their top leaders from detention and their NPA cadres recovered many barangays in the countryside. We got nothing,” said Lorenzana.
“And yet when the President canceled the talks, we were branded as anti-peace,” he added.
The President canceled the peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA after communist rebels continued with their atrocities against government troops even while there were ongoing talks. The last straw was the ambush against the Presidential Security Group (PSG) in Arakan, North Cotabato last July.

Ex Navy flag officer breaks silence, waits for probe

Thursday, 18 January 2018 00:00 Published in Nation

Erstwhile Navy Flag Officer in Command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado yesterday broke his silence about his “unceremonious” relief, admitting he was hurt but stressed that as a soldier he only follows orders.

Mercado was ordered relieved by President Duterte, upon the recommendation of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, last Dec. 22 for allegedly delaying the P15 billion frigate acquisition project of the Philippine Navy.
He is subsequently placed on a floating status and reporting to the office of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero.
According to Mercado, he is preparing for any possible investigation of his “unceremonious” relief.
“I am still a full-blooded Navy officer because I am floating…I report to the office (of the chief of staff)…I am fine right now, I am preparing what I need to…if there are any investigation,” said Mercado.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, a former Marine captain, is calling for a congressional inquiry into Mercado’s relief.
Asked of his relief, Mercado replied “I am a military officer, I obey orders. I know the secretary of national defense, he has some justification for doing it so I respect it.”
“Of course, I was hurt because I was the flag officer in command then I was relieved but that’s it. As I’ve said I’ve been a soldier in my life,” he added.
A member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Matikas” Class of 1983, Mercado was scheduled to reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 this coming March.
But he admitted that retiring earlier that his mandatory retirement remains an option.
“Those are options available to me but I am not yet have been thinking about it because I am more concerned with preparing for possible investigation, if there is one,” said Mercado.
Military insiders claimed that Mercado only fought for what is beneficial to the Philippine Navy in the installation of a more sophisticated combat management system (CMS) for the two frigates contracted with Hyundai heavy Industries of South Korea.
Lorenzana even met with former Navy chiefs to explain the relief of Mercado, whom he (Lorenzana) accused of insubordination.

Spectacular lava “fireworks” shooting from its crater are drawing tourists to the Philippines’ most active volcano, authorities said Tuesday as scientists warned of a potential dangerous eruption within days.

Lava spurting from Mayon volcano lit up the sky overnight Monday in what scientists said was a sign of increasing activity that prompted official calls for evacuation of areas under threat from a major eruption.
But even as thousands of residents flee, tourists are flocking to the area, some 330 kilometers southeast of Manila to watch and photograph the spectacle, Danny Garcia, a spokesman for Albay province told AFP.
“It’s a spectacle to watch. It’s beauty and fury in one, especially at night. But it’s a natural phenomenon so we don’t know when an (explosive) eruption will happen,” Garcia added.
Mayon, a near-perfect cone that also draws thousands of tourists during its periods of quiet, rises 8,070 feet above Legazpi, a city of about 200,000 people surrounded by a largely agricultural region.
The state volcanology institute described the natural pyrotechnics as “short-duration lava fountaining”, an escalation from the slow lava flow from the crater a day earlier. “If lava has enough gas and material, fragments will be flown up into the air, like the fountain you light up on New Year’s Eve,” Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), told AFP.

“There is more force involved when the lava would exit so it’s more intense than just the lava oozing out.”
Ash also rose two kilometers into the sky in the past 24 hours, enveloping surrounding areas in a grey carpet as more residents left their homes for safety.
About 30,000 people in and around Legazpi have fled their homes, the provincial government said on Tuesday, more than double the official count on Monday.
Local governments are tapping emergency funds and working to ensure clean water supply, officials said.
However hotels reported getting more tourist bookings while people flocked to viewing decks to watch the volcano from a distance, the provincial government said although it gave no specific figures.
The Philippines is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire” of islands that were formed by volcanic activity, and is perennially under threat from 22 active volcanoes.
The most powerful explosion in recent years was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, about 100 kilometres northwest of Manila, which killed more than 800 people.
Scientists said it was highly unlikely Mayon would have a similar eruption.
“It erupts quite often, and volcanoes that erupt frequently tend to have smaller eruptions than those that erupt less frequently,” David Rothery, a geosciences professor at The Open University in Britain, told AFP.
Displaced residents rise
The number of displaced residents in Albay continued to rise, now numbering at nearly 5,000 families, as Mayon Volcano remained restive and authorities warned of a possible hazardous eruption in the coming days.
Chief Insp. Arthur Gomez, spokesman of the Albay Provincial Police Office (PPO), said that a total of 4,968 families composed of 18,447 individuals have evacuated from their homes since Saturday due to the volcano’s restiveness.
Gomez said that the affected residents are currently housed inside 21 evacuation centers in the towns of Guinobatan, Camalig, Malilipot, Daraga and the cities of Ligao and Tabaco.
Authorities have ordered mandatory evacuation on Saturday after phreatic eruptions were recorded on Mayon Volcano. Forced evacuation was subsequently conducted on residents living within the six kilometer permanent danger zone due to the volcano’s continued unrest.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has raised Alert Level 3, warning of a “relatively high level of unrest.”
The agency also warned that a hazardous eruption is possible “within weeks or even days.”
Relatedly, the military’s Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) has placed its Disaster Response Units (DRUs) on stand-by alert for possible worsening of the activities of Mayon Volcano.
Col. Teody Toribio, spokesman of Solcom, said that all disaster response personnel and mobility assets of 9th Infantry (Spear) Division, Tactical Operations Group 5 and Naval Forces, Southern Luzon are all prepositioned in Camp Simeon Ola, Legazpi City for the continuous deployment for pre-emptive actions.
Toribio said that Solcom is in constant coordination with the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (DRRMCs) for updates and response operations.
Furthermore, Toribio said that Solcom’s Tactical Operations Group 5 and TOG-4 are providing helicopters needed for aerial surveys over Mayon Volcano.
Lt. Gen. Danilo Pamonag, Solcom commander, said that while other Solcom units were placed on stand-by, some troops are already deployed and assisting in the ongoing evacuation and security operations in the affected areas.
Pamonag assured that Solcom is ready to give further assistance and expressed his support to the efforts of OCD 5, LGUs and stakeholders in the province of Albay.

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