Tuesday, March 19, 2013

British arms industry sets sights on AFP modernization

MANILA - The British arms industry wants to supply the Philippines' Department of National Defense (DND) with state-of-the-art weaponry.

UK Ambassador Stephen Lillie told reporters on Monday night that two British business delegations are in town to explore trade opportunities here.

An eight-person delegation active in the aid-funded business sector will meet with the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) to explore opportunities linked to the regional lender's projects not only in the Philippines but also across Asia.

Cheryl Boxall, UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) Aid-funded Business Service Project manager, said the group is interested in agriculture, education, health, mining, power, public transportation, among others.

Thirteen British companies in the defense sector are also in Manila following earlier discussions with the DND. The delegation will meet with officials of the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during the two-day UK Defence and Technology Event that starts today.

"The DND is engaged in a very big modernization program. We're looking at this opportunity. We have a very strong defense industry in the UK. We want to showcase what the UK can do," Lillie said.

The British ambassador said the wide range of defense equipment and technologies made and developed in the UK are of good quality, "high-tech" and have value for money.
Ben Arnold O. De Vera | InterAksyon.com | March 19, 2013 | Article Link

Salvage team begins cutting of USS Guardian’s engine room

MANILA, Philippines – The USS Guardian dismantling operation continued during the weekend in preparation for the cutting of the US Navy minesweeper’s engine room, according to the spokesperson of the Philippine Coast Guard.

Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo, also chief of the PCG’s public affairs office, on Sunday said the US Navy-contracted salvage team was “in the process of clearing the USS Guardian’s engine room and the lower deck of equipment, loose materials and debris.”

In a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, he also disclosed that “good weather in the Tubbataha Reef (in the Sulu Sea) has allowed the salvage operation to progress.”
“Wind speeds of 10 to 15 knots and waves of 0.6 to 1 meter are prevailing in the reef area,” noted Balilo.

The salvage team “has dismantled over 50 percent of the USS Guardian,” said the Coast Guard’s Palawan district in a report to the PCG headquarters in Manila.

The Coast Guard search-and-rescue vessel BRP Romblon (SARV 3503) is closely monitoring the salvage operation, led by the main crane ship Jascon 25, according to Balilo.

Seven other ships were in the vicinity: the US Navy supply ship Wally Schirra, USS Salvor, crane ship SMIT Borneo, barge Seabridge S-700, tugs Archon Tide and Intrepid, and the Malayan tow vessel Trabajador 1.

Last week, the USS Guardian’s four engines, as well as its two diesel generators and fantail cranes, were successfully removed and transferred to the Seabridge by the Jascon 25.

The salvage team is expecting favorable weather conditions in the reef area in the next three to four days that would allow it to continue work on the 68-meter US Navy vessel, which ran aground on the reef on January 17.

The ship dismantling operation began on February 22 but was suspended at least four times due to bad weather.

AFP: 21 Filipino peacekeepers likely to finish their tours

MANILA, March 18 (PNA) - The 21 Filipino peacekeepers, earlier captured and released by Syrian rebels while conducting a logistics run at the Golan Heights this month, are likely to finish their tour of duty after successfully passing their debriefing, physical and medical examinations Sunday.

“All indications point to our peacekeepers returning to their posts and finishing their respective tour of duty,” AFP spokesperson Col. Arnulfo M. Burgos, Jr., said.

The 21 Filipino military men were subjected to tests to determine their psychological, physical, and mental dispositions after being held for four days by Syrian rebels.

The soldiers, part of a 300-strong Philippine peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights, were captured by rebels while on a logistics run on March 6.

They were later released on March 10.

The Philippines has been maintaining a peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights since the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) implemented the 1974 UN Security Council resolution 350.

Burgos said the peacekeepers passed the first set of debriefing that began March 14.

The debriefing sessions, as well as the physical and medical examinations, were conducted at the UNDOF headquarters in Camp Faouar, Syrian Golan.

The AFP spokesperson said each soldier would have different months for completion of their respective tours of duty.

He added some of them were deployed to the Golan Heights before and after November last year.

“So some of them would finish their tour of duty by June, some by August.”

Burgos said, however, that all of the 21 would have completed their tour of duty by September. 
Philippine News Agency | March 18, 2013 | Article Link

AFP to maintain military assets off Tawi-Tawi

MANILA — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Sunday announced that it will still continue to maintain its forces in Tawi-Tawi to ssist in the ongoing humanitarian efforts for Filipino families displaced in the fighting in Sabah.
“We’re going to continue maintaining the function of these assets for humanitarian purposes,” AFP spokesperson Col. Arnulfo M. Burgos, Jr., said.
Around 34 Philippine Navy (PN) ships, a Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" cargo plane and two battalions of troops are currently deployed in Tawi-Tawi.
These military assets are primarily used in the transporting of displaced individuals, relief goods and medical supplies.
“With the enormity of the tasks, we can expect that additional manpower would be needed or deployed on the field,” Burgos said.
On Wednesday, the AFP said it has increased its assets near Sabah, citing that it has deployed 34 Navy ships in the areas near Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Sulu.
The PN initially maintained a naval blockade composed of ten ships in February as a hundred “armed” men were reported to have landed in Lahad Datu, Sabah.
As a firefight broke out in March between Sultan Kiram’s followers and Malaysian military, the former increased to more than 300. 
Philippine News Agency/Zambo Times | March 17, 2013 | Article Link

Six nations to join in talks during US-Philippines drill

Manila, March 18 (IANS) Australia, Brunei, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand will take part in a maritime security discussion with the US and the Philippines during a military exercise to be held in April, a Philippine official said.
The "Multinational Maritime Security Roundtable Discussion" is part of the upcoming Balikatan Exercise 2013, Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
The exercises will take place April 5-17.
However, the six other countries will not be taking part in the actual field training exercises which will be limited to Filipino and US forces alone, the official said.
"The roundtable discussion seeks to determine specific humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in high- traffic international waters, and build response confidence among multi-national partners," said Burgos.
"The event will be one of the highlights of this year's military exercise where more than 8,000 soldiers from the AFP and US military are set to participate," he said.
Burgos said the annual exercise seeks to "further promote and foster the existing friendship" between the two countries and "advance the security and stability of the region in the near future".
Indo Asian News Service | March 18, 2013 | Article Link

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Balikatan 2013 kicks off April 5

MANILA, Philippines – About 8,000 soldiers from the United States and Philippines will participate in this year’s 29th Balikatan exercises in April, the military said Tuesday.

“High-ranking military officers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, United States military, and other partner countries’ military will convene for the Multinational Maritime Table-Top Exercise (TTX) here in Camp Aguinaldo this April. This will be the highlight of the upcoming Balikatan Exercise 2013 which will kick off on April 5, 2013 here, and will run until April 17,” Colonel Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., military spokesman said in a statement.

The aim of the TTX is to determine specific Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations in high-traffic international waters, and build response confidence among multi-national partners.

Armed forces personnel from both countries will conduct combined staff exercises and field training at Camp O’Donnell, Crow Valley, Subic Bay and Fort Magsaysay “to improve interoperability and contingency planning.”

The US and Philippine security forces will also undertake joint humanitarian assistance projects in communities throughout Zambales province, with preliminary work on community infrastructure projects that will begin mid-March.

Military medical personnel will also offer free medical, dental and veterinary care. In selected communities, military engineers will construct and repair schools and other infrastructure.

The Balikatan exercises, which will focus on humanitarian and disaster response, seeks to address disaster situations that occurred recently in the Philippines with the objectives of supporting the Government with the development of regional disaster management and emergency response mechanisms, Burgos said.

 |  | March 12, 2013 | Article Link

Salvage ops for USS Guardian half-way done - Task Force Tubbataha

Salvage crew for USS Guardian

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY – Salvage operations for the grounded USS Guardian at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) has now accomplished around 50-percent of its target, Task Force Tubbataha (TFT) said Monday.

Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, head of the TFT and commander of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)-Palawan District, said, "We are expecting calm weather in the next three to four days so work will continue on the USS Guardian by the Task Force."

As of Monday, the salvors had cleared pipes and vents at the funnel base of the USS Guardian; lifted remaining portions of the funnel base section at the port side; and cleared all types of interference at the auxiliary machinery room and main machinery room.

They also worked and prepared all machineries at the AMR and MMR for removal; transferred additional hydraulic power unit to the USS Guardian; and opened the top containers for loading of debris.

The 50-percent accomplishment, he added, includes the preparation and mobilization of the salvage operation.

A spokesman for the US Navy said salvage costs have so far totalled more than a million dollars.
Donna Jean M. Genilan | Phlippines News Agency | March 12, 2013 | Article Link

Four killed in fresh Sabah shooutout

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian soldier and three militants were killed in a fresh gunfight at Sungai Nyamuk near Kampung Tanjung Batu, Lahad Datu.

Armed Forces chief Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin was quoted by The Star confirming the deaths.

The gunmen killed in the shootout had been moving in a group of five when they were spotted by security forces conducting mopping up operations at 7:45am, the daily said.

Jen Zulkifeli said the soldiers engaged them in a gun fight and forced the men to retreat. The soldiers then tracked the armed group down and engaged them in another shootout three hours later.

It was in this shootout that the soldier, as well as the gunmen, were killed.

The soldier is said to be a Private with the Royal Malay Regiment. Another soldier is also believed to have been injured in the shootout earlier today.

The standoff in sabah shows no signs of abating since the armed intruders - supporters of Jamalul Kiram II, the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu - sneaked into Lahad Datu with a cache of weapons.

Since then, the body count has ratcheted up, with over 63 deaths reported. 97 people have also been detained in connection with the insurgency.

Lydia Gomez | Yahoo! Southeast Asia | March 12, 2013 | Article Link

Sunday, March 10, 2013

PNoy signs law boosting gov't arsenal with P75B

CITY OF BALANGA, Bataan, March 8 (PIA) -- Top officials in Bataan have expressed high hopes on getting beefier national security and economic development after President Aquino signed a law that will provide P75 billion to upgrade the armed forces, benefiting the government arsenal located in the province. 

Republic Act No. 10349 or the Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program seeks to develop the army into a multi-mission-oriented force capable of effectively addressing internal and external security threats. 

It has a budget of P75 billion for the first five years of implementation that includes the procurement of major weapon and non-weapon equipment and technology, and the construction of needed major infrastructures. 

Bataan 2nd District Representative Albert Garcia said the law was a “landmark legislation” that was consolidated from his original House Bill No. 76 which sought to modernize the Government Arsenal, the country’s maker of basic weaponry and ammunition, located in Limay town. 

“I filed this bill as early as the 14th Congress precisely to rehabilitate our 370-hectare Government Arsenal in Lamao, Limay, Bataan which, to date, remains under-utilized and unproductive,” said Garcia. 

He said that only four types of ammunition are produced in the defense estate: the 7.62mm M80, 5.56mm M193, Cal .45 M1911, and 9mm Parabellum. 

“There is a need to upgrade the capability of the Government Arsenal to produce not only small arms ammunition but also higher caliber ammunition such as 40 cal., and even mortars and other crew-served weapons ammunition,” Garcia said. 

Also, the development of the land is projected to create more jobs for residents of Bataan and become a catalyst for economic activity, he added. 

The Philippine National Police (PNP) which also gets munitions from the arsenal were elated over the law which a top local official said will be integral in sustaining national security and public safety.

“If we will be self-sufficient with ammunition and equipment, the police and soldiers will no longer get from other manufacturers. Kudos to Abet for pushing this law,” said PNP-Bataan Director Ricardo Zapata Jr., referring to the lawmaker

Jose Mari Garcia | Philippine Information Agency | March 8, 2013 |  Article Link

Strengthening Philippines-Japan Maritime Cooperation

Manila, Philippines – The Philippines and Japan have been promoting bilateral cooperation in the maritime field for several decades, through exchange of views and dialogues between the two countries. For the second time, the two countries held bilateral talks on maritime cooperation in Manila on February 22, 2013. The First Dialogue on Maritime Cooperation between the two countries was held in Tokyo, Japan, on September 9, 2011.

The holding of the Second Philippines-Japan Dialogue on Maritime and Oceanic Affairs followed Japan’s approval of a request by the Philippines for 10 multi-role response vessels under Japan’s soft-loan program. The vessels will be turned over to the country in 18 months.

The two countries discussed various areas of cooperation particularly in maritime safety, maritime security, fisheries and marine scientific research. They exchanged views on programs and actions to promote cooperation in freedom of navigation and safety at sea, and shared best practices on the maritime law enforcement capabilities of countries. The Philippines welcomed Japan’s continued support in the capacity-building program of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). Japan is providing communication systems that will be installed on PCG vessels to help improve its capacity in policing the country’s territorial waters.
The Philippine delegation was composed of officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense, Philippine Coast Guard, Maritime Industry Authority, National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. The Japanese delegation was composed of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secretariat of the Headquarters for Ocean Policy of the Cabinet Secretariat, Ministry of Defense and the Coast Guard.
We congratulate Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Gilberto G. B. Asuque, who headed the Philippine Delegation, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Director-General for Southwest and Southeast Asian Affairs Kenji Kanasugi, who led the Japanese Delegation, on their successful holding of the Second Philippines-Japan Dialogue on Maritime and Oceanic Affairs, in Manila, Republic of the Philippines. 
Tempo.com.ph | March 9, 2013 | Article Link

Filipino UN peacekeepers seized in Syria arrive safe in Amman

The United Nations welcomed the release on Saturday of 21 Filipino peacekeepers, who had been seized by Syrian rebels on the Golan Heights, as they crossed to freedom in Jordan after a three-day ordeal.
Philippine authorities also expressed relief at the release of the members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
A Jordanian military official said the peacekeepers were greeted by border guards as they crossed from Syria in the afternoon and "underwent medical examinations."
They then boarded an army bus and were given a military escort to the east Amman headquarters of the armed forces where they were "handed over to the UN representative in Jordan, Costanza Farina, in the presence of the Philippines ambassador," the official added in a statement.
An AFP correspondent said the peacekeepers were also greeted by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, government spokesman Samih Maaytah and Chief of Staff Mashaal al-Zebn.
The peacekeepers are members of the UNDOF monitoring the armistice line between Syria and Israel that followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
A video footage reportedly released by rebels who handed over the peacekeepers and posted by SITE Monitoring Service shows the soldiers in blue UN helmets and vests shaking hands with insurgents as they cross a small stream to Jordan.
The footage shows a man describing the event as a cameraman films the peacekeepers who are seen standing by a truck.
"The UN observers are now in Jordanian territory. They were taken to the Jordan border and given to Jordanian authorities...," the man is heard saying.
The Filipinos were seized by rebels Wednesday near the armistice line in the first abduction of its kind since the the start of an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad two years ago.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "appreciates the efforts of all concerned to secure their safe release," his office in New York said after the Filipinos crossed over from Syria.
"The secretary general emphasizes to all parties the impartiality of United Nations peacekeepers," it added.
The Philippine military spokesman told AFP no decision had been taken about where the peacekeepers would go next but that Manila's envoy to Amman "will be directly coordinating with the Jordanian authorities for their turnover to us."
"The Filipino UN peacekeeping contingent's (to the Golan Heights) commander, Colonel Cirilito Sobejana, is now on his way to Jordan to meet his men," said Manila Colonel Arnulfo Burgos.
Ambassador Olivia V Palala told AFP all the men were "safe and sound" and that future plans for them would be made in coordination with the United Nations.
Judeh said he spoke to Ban by telephone "to reassure him about the safety of the peacekeepers," adding that "Jordan will provide them with all the assistance they need."
The peacekeepers were abducted by rebels from the Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade in Jamla village just a mile to the Syrian side of the armistice line.
The rebels had made conditions for their release, namely that Syrian troops move 20 kilometres (12 miles) back from Jamla.
They also demanded that the International Committee of the Red Cross "guarantees the safe exit from the strife-torn area of Jamla of civilians," said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman.
On Friday a UN attempt to pick up the peacekeepers was aborted when Syrian troops shelled the area.
Syria denied the shelling and the foreign ministry sent letters to Ban and the UN Security Council on Saturday "condemning attacks by terrorist groups against UN forces and residents" near the armistice line, state news agency SANA said.
It also called on the UN to "clearly condemn terrorist groups" -- the term used by the regime to describe the rebels, the official Syrian news agency added.
The abduction was condemned by world powers and triggered a flurry of diplomatic action to secure the peacekeepers' release.
It also sparked fears that more governments would withdraw their contingents from the already depleted UN mission.
Israel warned that any further reduction in UNDOF strength risked creating a security vacuum in the no-man's land between the two sides on the strategic Golan plateau, which it seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Syrian troops bombarded several rebel-held areas near Damascus, where 10 people, including three children, were killed in clashes between troops and rebels, the Observatory said.
At least 49 people were killed across Syria on Saturday, the Observatory added.
Musa Hattar | AFP News | March 10, 2013 | Article Link

Friday, March 08, 2013

Kidnapped peacekeepers to be freed in coming hours

Rebel commander tells BBC abduction of 21 Filipino soldiers near border with Golan was a mistake

The 21 UN peacekeepers from the Philippines who were kidnapped by Syrian rebels Wednesday will be released on Thursday, a high-ranking rebel commander said.
The commander told BBC Arabic that the abduction of the peacekeepers was a mistake and that they would be freed in the coming hours.
Video emerged Thursday afternoon showing the peacekeepers saying that they were being treated well.
One video shows three men are dressed in camouflage and blue bullet-proof vests emblazoned with the UN and “Philippines.”
One of the men says in English says they “are safe and the Free Syrian Army are treating us good.”
The other video shows six peacekeepers sitting in a room, and one of them says they are safe.
The Philippine government said earlier Thursday that talks were under way for the release of the 21 unarmed peacekeepers, who were kidnapped by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights in the increasingly volatile zone separating Israeli and Syrian troops.
Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said the peacekeepers, who were detained on Wednesday, were unharmed and were being treated as “visitors and guests.”
Hernandez told reporters in Manila that the UN force commander in the area was negotiating with the leader of the rebel group, whose demands concerned the positioning of Syrian government forces in the area. He said there was no deadline for the negotiations.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said earlier Thursday that the UN force commander told him to expect the peacekeepers to be released within 24 hours, with negotiations progressing well. The UN Security Council demanded their immediate and unconditional release.
The country’s president, Benigno Aquino III, said earlier that he was told to expect the peacekeepers to be released within 24 hours, with negotiations progressing. Hernandez said the rebel group’s demands concerned the positioning of Syrian government forces in the area, and that there was no deadline for the negotiations.
The peacekeepers were kidnapped Wednesday by a group of Syrian rebels near the Golan Heights town of Jamla.
“They were in a military convoy doing their run. They were suddenly held at one Syrian rebel outpost. They were allowed to go through the first outpost but were stopped at the second outpost,” said Philippine military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos.
A video clip released by the rebels shows a number of gunmen standing alongside the UN vehicles, while their apparent leader announced his demands. Some of the United Nations employees can be seen inside the vehicles.
In a second video, the same rebel spokesman is seen accusing the UN, the Assad regime and Europe of “collaborating with Israel.”
“The Free Syrian army will remain here until we banish Bashar and his oppression,” one rebel is seen saying.
The video accuses the peacekeepers of assisting the Syrian regime to redeploy in an area near the Golan that the fighters seized a few days ago in battles that left 11 fighters and 19 regime forces dead.
A man identified as Abu Qaed al-Faleh, spokesman for the Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigades, announced the group is holding the peacekeepers until Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces withdraw from Jamla.
The UN Security Council strongly condemned the kidnapping and demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the peacekeepers.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the council president, told reporters that armed groups had been threatening the unarmed peacekeepers. He said talks were under way between UN officials and the captors.
Churkin said the capture of the peacekeepers “is particularly unacceptable and bizarre (because) UNDOF are unarmed and they have nothing to do with the situation in Syria.”
“They are there on a completely different mission so there is no reason at all under any circumstances, any kind of sick imagination to try to harm those people,” he said.
Churkin urged countries with influence on the Syrian opposition to use it to help free the peacekeepers. He did not name any countries but Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are known to have been providing military aid to some Syrian rebel groups.
UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said the UN observers were on a regular supply mission when they were stopped near an observation post and detained by some 30 gunmen.
Croatia announced last week that it would withdraw some 100 peacekeeping troops from the Syria-Israel border due to fears in the Croatian government that its troops could become targets for Syrian government soldiers.
Last month, UN staffer Carl Campeau went missing in the Syrian Golan Heights, sources familiar with the case told The Times of Israel.
Campeau, a Canadian legal adviser, was stationed at the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force base on the Syrian side of the demilitarized zone. Attempts by The Times of Israel to contact Campeau on his cellphone and at his office were unsuccessful.
Last week, The Times of Israel quoted a rebel activist reporting that Assad’s army had fled the Golan Heights area bordering Israel, and that rebel forces were in control there.
Times of Israel/AP | March 7, 2013 | Article Link

Malaysia incursion toll rises to 60 after new clashes

Malaysia said clashes between intruding Filipino militants and its security forces had left 60 people dead as of late Thursday, as it rejected a ceasefire offer from the fighters' leader.
Police chief Ismail Omar said 32 followers of a self-proclaimed Philippine sultan had been killed in two confrontations since Wednesday near the scene of a three-week standoff in Sabah state, after a military assault to dislodge them.
That brought the total dead to 60, including 52 militants. Eight Malaysian policemen were killed in skirmishes last weekend.
Troops and police are currently hunting the Islamic militants in a remote region of Borneo island, where they landed last month to assert a long-dormant territorial claim in what has become Malaysia's worst security crisis in years.
A spokesman for their Manila-based leader, who called for a midday ceasefire, said 235 people including eight women took part in the original incursion.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who flew to the region Thursday to inspect security operations, said he told Philippine leader Benigno Aquino by phone the ceasefire offer was rejected.
"I told President Aquino they must lay down their arms immediately," Najib told reporters in a village near where the army and police were searching for scores of militants.
"They have to surrender their arms and they have to do it as soon as possible."
The "sultan", Jamalul Kiram III, declared a unilateral ceasefire for 12:30 pm (0430 GMT) and urged Malaysia to reciprocate.
But Najib said Malaysian forces would press on with the offensive, sending more soldiers into the hilly region of vast oil palm estates and pockets of jungle.
Authorities said one intruder was killed in a clash Wednesday and 31 on Thursday.
They gave no details, other than to say one encounter was in the village of Tanduo, where the standoff began, and the other in the neighbouring village of Tanjung Batu to the east.
The remaining militants were still believed to be in the two villages.
Anger has mounted in Malaysia over the incursion, which began February 12 when fighters arrived from the southern Philippines to press Kiram's claim to the area.
Kiram says he is heir to the Sultanate of Sulu, which once ruled islands that are now part of the southern Philippines as well as Sabah.
The main group of militants was holed up in the sleepy farming village of Tanduo for three weeks until two deadly shootouts with security forces at the weekend triggered a military assault to dislodge them.
The attack scattered the fighters and security forces were combing through huge oil palm groves for them.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged a peaceful resolution of the bizarre incursion.
"(Ban) urges an end to the violence and encourages dialogue among all the parties for a peaceful resolution of the situation," said a statement released by his office late Wednesday.
Kiram declared the "unilateral ceasefire... in order to reciprocate the call of the UN to preserve lives", his spokesman said.
Tension is running high in eastern Sabah due to the incursion. Residents of some towns have fled after police said gunmen were spotted in other areas down the coast, raising fears of a wider guerrilla infiltration.
Late Wednesday police said the bodies of six police officers killed in a weekend ambush in the coastal town of Semporna were mutilated.
"The bodies of dead police personnel were found to have been brutally mutilated by the armed intruders," a statement said, giving no further details.
Police have said six militants responsible for the ambush were later killed.
The incursion has created a delicate situation for the two neighbours, with Manila earlier calling for Malaysian restraint just before Tuesday's military assault was launched.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said late Wednesday that his government might seek Kiram's extradition if Manila failed to take action. But the Philippine government said that was unlikely, citing the lack of an extradition treaty.
M. Jegathesan | AFP News | March 8, 2013 | Article Link

BRP Pampanga Joins Salvage Operations of Distressed Chinese Bulker

BRP-Pampanga Joins Salvage Operations of Distressed Chinese Bulker
The Philippine Coast Guard announced yesterday that a Chinese-owned bulk carrier is currently dead on waters after it encountered engine trouble just southwest of Tubbataha Reef along the vicinity off Sulu Sea in Palawan
Commodore Enrico Efren Evangelista, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Palawan district commander said that his office received an urgent call from officials of the New Filipino Agencies Marine Inc. saying that M/V Tan An Ha, a Panamanian-registered cargo vessel and owned by Tan Ai Shipping based in Fujian, China is currently in a distress situation after its main engine conked out while sailing southwest of the Sulu Sea (Latitude 07° – 4.7°N/ Longitude 119 ° – 40°E).
Evangelista said that the cargo-vessel, which came from Singapore, was supposedly on its way to Tagbilaran Port in Bohol to deliver 5,900 tons of limestone shipment when the incident happened.
Initial reports from the area disclosed that rough sea conditions continue hammering the vessel and the ship’s captain is worried that it may cause the vessel to run aground along the shallow portions in the area.

Search and rescue vessel BRP-Pampanga, which is currently assisting on the salvage operations of the USS Guardian along Tubbataha Reef was dispatched to respond  and render immediate assistance to crew of the said cargo vessel. The PCG assured the public that the area where the vessel is currently located is far from the Tubbataha Reef.
Naval Today | March 6, 2013 | Article Link

Philippines, Vietnam agree to boost defense cooperation

MANILA, Philippines - Defense officials of the Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to explore ways to boost the defense cooperation between their countries.
The Defense department said Wednesday that the matter was discussed during the meeting of the Joint Defense Cooperation Working Group of the two countries last week in Manila.
“The meeting served as a mechanism for reviewing bilateral defense cooperation leading to a discussion of specific proposals on how to enhance defense cooperation between the two countries,” the department said in a statement.
“With a Memorandum of Agreement on Defense Cooperation signed in 2010, both sides identified mechanisms to substantiate the agreement,” it added.
The mechanisms include “practical cooperative activities” in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and the east that seek to enhance confidence among their respective personnel.
The West Philippine Sea has been the subject of a long-standing territorial dispute in the region. China claims virtually the entire area while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.
Other mechanisms being considered include defense and military officials exchanges, personnel exchanges, information-sharing, analyst-to-analyst exchanges.
The two countries also exchanged updates on the situation in the West Philippine Sea and other regional issues.
“The Philippines emphasized the importance it accords to the peaceful approach to the issue and stressed that it is principle that underpins the country’s decision to bring the matter to the International Arbitral Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas,” the Defense department said.
Defense Assistant Secretary Raymund Quilop led the Philippine delegation while Maj. Gen. Vu Chien Than, director of the foreign relations department of Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense headed the Vietnamese contingent.
Alexis Romero | The Philippine Star | March 6, 2013 | Article Link

Blue Ridge makes goodwill visit to Philippines

In this file photo, USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) operates in the
 South China Sea in May 2012. 
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication
 Specialist 2nd Class Jason Behnke)

MANILA, Philippines - U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge arrived in Manila for a goodwill port visit March 7.

This port visit gives embarked Marines, 7th Fleet staff and Blue Ridge Sailors an opportunity to experience Manila's unique culture and provide Sailors with several community service events.
For more than 30 years, Blue Ridge has maintained a presence in Southeast Asia region strengthening allied ties through community service projects and conducting joint military exercises, including the Republic of the Philippines.
Blue Ridge Commanding Officer, Capt. Will Pennington said, "Port calls in Manila are a demonstration of the continuing friendship between our two nations, and are a tremendous opportunity for the crew to experience the warm and friendly Filipino culture. Our partnership and alliance is long standing and mutually beneficial. We are looking forward to community service events, sporting games, and subject matter expert exchanges with our Philippine Navy counterparts."
Aboard Blue Ridge, there is a large percentage of Filipino Sailors who are getting the chance to reconnect with family and friends for the first time in many years.
This is the first time I'm returning to the Philippines in more than five years," said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Sukarno Ikbala. "I'm very excited to take part in the events planned with the community and spending some quality time with my family that lives here."
MCS 1st Class Heather Ewton | US Pacific Fleet | March 6, 2013 | Article Link

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Terms Of Reference for F/A-50 'Golden Eagle' now being crafted

MANILA — The Philippines is now on track to operate again supersonic jet aircraft as the "term of reference" (TOR) for the F/A-50 "Golden Eagle" is now in the works.
"Procurement for the F/A-50 will be on a government-to-government basis," the Department of National Defense (DND) observer stressed.
He also said the go-ahead signal for the TOR only came last week.
The order came from the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB), an attached agency of the Department of Budget and Management.
The DND observer declined to comment on when the TOR will be completed but stressed that it will be done within the year.
But he expressed confidence that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) will be flying the F/A-50 within two years time.
The last supersonic planes operated by the country was the Northrop F-5 "Freedom Fighter" which was decommissioned due to lack of parts and air frame aging sometime in 2005.
The TOR describes the purpose and structure of a project, committee, meeting and negotiation.
It also defines the vision, objectives, scope and deliverables (i.e. what has to be achieved); stakeholders, roles and responsibilities (i.e. who will take part in it); resource, financial and quality plans (i.e. how it will be achieved); work breakdown structure and schedule (i.e. when it will be achieved) and includes success factors/risks and restraints.
The Philippines is in the market for 12 supersonic trainer aircraft which can double as interim fighter and attack planes for the PAF. It has allocated P18 billion for this program.
The GPPB earlier gave the DND the "green-light" to start pre-negotiations with the South Korean government for 12 F/A 50 aircraft last January.
The plane is manufactured by the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). The F/A-50 is also known as the TA-50.
The F/A-50 design is largely derived from the F-16 "Fighting Falcon", and they have many similarities: use of a single engine, speed, size, cost, and the range of weapons.
KAI's previous engineering experience in license-producing the KF-16 was a starting point for the development of the F/A-50.
The aircraft can carry two pilots in tandem seating. The high-mounted canopy developed by Hankuk Fiber is applied with stretched acrylic, providing the pilots with good visibility and has been tested to offer the canopy with ballistic protection against four-pound objects impacting at 400 knots.
The altitude limit is 14,600 meters (48,000 feet), and airframe is designed to last 8,000 hours of service.
There are seven internal fuel tanks with capacity of 2,655 liters (701 US gallons), five in the fuselage and two in the wings.
An additional 1,710 liters (452 US gallons) of fuel can be carried in the three external fuel tanks.
Trainer variants have a paint scheme of white and red, and aerobatic variants white, black, and yellow.
The F/A-50 "Golden Eagle" uses a single General Electric F404-102 turbofan engine license-produced by Samsung Techwin, upgraded with a full authority digital engine control system jointly developed by General Electric and KAI.
The engine consists of three-staged fans, seven axial stage arrangement, and an afterburner.
The aircraft has a maximum speed of Mach 1.4-1.5.
Its engine produces a maximum of 78.7 kN (17,700 lbf) of thrust with afterburner. 
Priam F. Nepomuceno | Philippine News Agency/Zambo Times | 
March 6, 2013 | Article Link

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