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Archive for January 2007

Service commands all in hands of AFP chief’s ‘mistahs’

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
Last updated 04:52pm (Mla time) 01/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Major General Horacio Tolentino’s appointment as Air Force chief marks the first time in recent years that classmates or “mistahs” from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) are commanding all the service branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Tolentino, AFP Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Army Chief Lieutenant General Romeo Tolentino, and Navy Chief Vice Admiral Rogelio Calunsag are all members of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1974.

At least two of Esperon’s deputies — Major General Ferdinand Bocobo and Ludovico Franco — who often accompany the AFP chief on official functions and out-of-town troop visits, are also members of PMA ‘74,

Another “mistah” of PMA ’74 — police Deputy Director General Avelino Razon Jr. — is also a strong contender to replace Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Calderon when he retires in October.

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Tolentino, current commander of the Tactical Operations Command at the Benito Ebuen Airbase in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, replaces Lieutenant General Jose Reyes (PMA ’73), who retires on Saturday when he turns 56. Turnover rites have been set for Friday at the Villamor Airbase.

In a phone interview, Tolentino said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo informed him of his new assignment when he welcomed her at the Villamor Air Base last Sunday, upon her arrival from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“The President congratulated me, saying she will designate me as Air Force chief,” he said. “I am thankful to her.”

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita confirmed Tolentino’s appointment Wednesday morning in Malacañang.

According to his statement of information (SOI), Tolentino is a veteran of the campaign against Muslim rebels in the mid 1970s. After his graduation in 1974, he was assigned as security officer of Task Force Cagayan de Sulu.

After training at the Philippine Air Force flying school, Tolentino piloted UH-1H or Huey helicopters in battles with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). He saw combat in Mindanao for two and a half years.

Prior to his present assignment, Tolentino was deputy chief of staff for personnel or J1.

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Written by joelguinto

WedUTC2007-01-31T10:18:25+00:00UTC01bUTCWed, 31 Jan 2007 10:18:25 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am01

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Junior officers question Ebdane appointment to Defense

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
Last updated 04:42pm (Mla time) 01/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines — A number of junior officers said Wednesday they were dismayed by the appointment of Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. as new defense chief, saying it cast doubt on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s commitment to military reforms.

However, a defense undersecretary defended the appointment, calling Ebdane, who also served as head of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the right man for the job.

The junior officers, who spoke on condition they were not named, questioned Ebdane’s capability to run the department following allegations that, during his stint as PNP chief, he helped Arroyo cheat her way to victory in the 2004 elections.

Ebdane was also accused of coddling former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, Arroyo’s alleged accomplice.

He has denied the charges.

The junior officers also claimed that the PNP was rocked by a number of major blunders with Ebdane at its helm from 2002 to 2004, notably the escape of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) explosives expert Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi from police headquarters in Camp Crame while Australian Prime Minister John Howard was in the country for an official visit.

“His [Ebdane’s] appointment is a sign that Arroyo has no plans of reforming the military…You can see the many blunders he committed while he was in the PNP,” a Navy officer said.

“When did Arroyo ever consider merits in making her Cabinet appointments?” a Marine officer asked. “As for Ebdane, what does he know about defense?”

An officer form the Army claimed “Ebdane forced himself upon GMA [Arroyo]. His appointment violated the [recommendations of the] Feliciano Commission and will cause trouble in the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines].”

The Feliciano Commission, which investigated the failed Oakwood mutiny in 2003, recommended that a civilian should run the DND to do away with the patronage or “bata-bata” system it said was common when former military men held the defense portfolio.

Ebdane’s predecessor, Avelino Cruz Jr., a lawyer, took over the DND in August 2004 pursuant to the Feliciano Commission’s recommendations.

Cruz resigned effective November 30, 2006 amid reports of infighting within the Cabinet over the failed attempt by the Palace and its allies to amend the Constitution through a signature drive or “people’s initiative.”

Arroyo handled the defense portfolio for 60 days. Ebdane is set to assume the DND leadership in turnover ceremonies Thursday morning.

Defense undersecretary Ernesto Carolina, a retired general and Ebdane’s classmate at the Philippine Military Academy, came to Ebdane’s defense.

“A civilian has a distinct advantage, an ex-military man has a distinct advantage. The best [thing to do] is you get somebody that has a blend of both…Meaning he has to have knowledge of the military and experience dealing with civilians,” Carolina said.

Asked if Ebdane was the right “blend” that he was referring to, Carolina said: “I think so, you said it.”

Ebdane’s appointment would bring to five the number of retired generals in the DND leadership. Aside from Carolina, undersecretaries Antonio Santos, Ariston delos Reyes, and Mateo Mayuga are also retired military men.

The only civilian undersecretary is Ricardo Blancaflor, who handles legal affairs and special concerns.

Carolina also played down the Feliciano Commission’s recommendation on the appointment of the defense secretary, saying there are “no hard and fast rules” in choosing DND chiefs.

He also assured the public that the DND would stick by its memorandum of understanding with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) limiting the role of the military in the May elections to responding to serious armed threats.

“That’s a MoA of the DND, that’s not a MoA of a person,” Carolina said.

The DND forged the MoA in October 2006, while Cruz was at the helm. The agreement was an offshoot of the 2004 election fraud controversy.

Unlike in 2004, soldiers will no longer be allowed to ferry election materials and military camps will not be used as polling precincts or canvassing sites, according to the MoA.

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Written by joelguinto

WedUTC2007-01-31T10:17:09+00:00UTC01bUTCWed, 31 Jan 2007 10:17:09 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am01

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Arroyo: Bidding for P7-B military supply contracts to start

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
Last updated 04:01pm (Mla time) 01/31/2007

MANILA, Philippines — President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced on Wednesday that the Department of National Defense (DND) would start bidding out P7 billion of the P10-billion supply contracts for military hardware by February.

Deliveries of handheld radios, squad automatic weapons, helicopters and military trucks will start in March and will be completed by October, said Ernesto Carolina, defense undersecretary for civilian, veterans, and reservist affairs.

Arroyo was briefed on the pre-bidding procedures during a meeting at the DND headquarters Wednesday, her last day as concurrent defense secretary.

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In a statement, Arroyo noted how the pre-bidding proceedings for the 15 contracts were completed in three weeks, when it took “years” to finish before.

“As President and secretary of national defense, I commend the department’s Bids and Awards Committee for its outstanding performance in pursuing the guidelines I have issued to fast track the implementation of the procurement process for the Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program,” she said.

“The AFP Modernization program will continue to equip our soldiers with the military hardware necessary to sustain internal security operations, including [the] AFP anti-terrorism campaign, and address other non-traditional security threats,” she added.

The President said the accelerated procurement system would ensure the “selection of the best possible equipment our resources can afford at the soonest possible time.”

She said transparency was not sacrificed for speed as observers from the Makati Business Club, the Coalition Against Corruption, and the Bishops Business Conference were invited to witness the bidding.

The 15 supply contracts that will be up for bids, according to a DND document, are the following:

1. Multi-purpose attack crafts (P145.44M)
2. Squad Automatic Weapons (P103.55M)
3. Global positioning system (GPS) devices (P103.55M)
4. Scout watercrafts for the Philippine Army (P70.90M)
5. 1 ¼-ton trucks (P1.53B)
6. A digital aerial digital camera (P62.85M)
7. Handheld radios (P400M)
8. Armored Personnel Carriers (P144M)
9. Night Flying System (NFS) for the Air Force and the Navy (Lot 1-2, P617.12M)
10. NFS for the Philippine Navy (Lot1-4, P326.50M)
11. Night capable attack helicopters (P1.21B)
12. 40MM grenade launchers (P160.60M)
13. Bomb suits (P82.35M)
14. Upgrade of MG 520 attack helicopters (P240M)
15. Engines, airframes, power trains, fuel cells, lighting systems, radio equipment, and other basic instruments for UH-1H helicopters (P400M)

“Most of the projects have favorable responses, with two to three bidders each,” Carolina said.

Carolina said the DND was considering spending the remaining P3 billion through government-to-government arrangements, which could be cheaper.

 

 

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Written by joelguinto

WedUTC2007-01-31T10:16:08+00:00UTC01bUTCWed, 31 Jan 2007 10:16:08 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am01

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Scaled-down RP-US war games set in February

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
Last updated 03:39pm (Mla time) 01/30/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino and American troops will hold scaled-down Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) exercises this month after preparations for the annual war games had been hampered by the dispute over the custody of a US marine convicted of raping a Filipina, an official said Tuesday.

Instead of the traditional military drills on the field, only staff exercises or classroom discussions at Clark Field in Angeles City north of Manila and humanitarian missions in the southern island province of Sulu will be conducted starting February 19, said Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

Esperon said 380 Filipino soldiers and a “similar number” of American troops would participate in the lectures and aid missions.

Officials said field exercises had been set at the Philippine Marine Base in ternate town Cavite City, and two Philippine Army camps, Fort Magsaysay in Laur town, Nueva Ecija province, and Crow Valley in Capas town, Tarlac Province although these were “still being negotiated.”

“There will be a delay, but we hope it will push through by the fourth quarter,” Esperon said.

In an e-mail, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Zimmer, spokesman of the United States Army Pacific Command, acknowledged that the custody battle for Lance Corporal Daniel Smith had delayed the actual military exercises. He did not say if it would resume later this year.

“The reason the numbers are down is because the field training portion (FTX) of the exercise was cancelled because of a disagreement with the Visiting Forces Agreement. That disagreement was resolved but it was too late for the FTX to be rescheduled,” Zimmer said in an e-mail.

Officials had said that over 5,000 troops from the US and a
similar number from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would
participate in this year’s exercises, which is provided under the Visiting
Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US.

Washington called off the Balikatan Exercises last December 22 after a local court refused to yield custody of Smith to the US Embassy in Manila.

The US agreed to resume exercises in early January after the Philippine government, without a court order, transferred Smith to the US embassy from the Makati City jail on December 29.

Smith was sentenced life imprisonment last December 4 by Judge Benjamin Pozon of Branch 139 of the Makati regional trial court after he was found guilty of raping a Filipina at the Subic Bay Freeport on Nov. 1, 2005.

Three other US marines were absolved of the crime and had been shipped back to an American base in Okinawa, Japan.

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Written by joelguinto

TueUTC2007-01-30T20:48:39+00:00UTC01bUTCTue, 30 Jan 2007 20:48:39 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm01

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Military chief: Soldiers involved in extrajudicial killings

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
Last updated 03:00pm (Mla time) 01/30/2007


MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) Military Chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. has admitted that soldiers had been involved in the killings of left-wing activists but that these had been investigated.

At the same time, Esperon said retired Major General Jovito Palparan could not be prosecuted because he was no longer under military authority, although he vowed to prosecute soldiers implicated in the killings before military and civilian courts.

Esperon
Esperon issued the statement a day after a panel that investigated the extrajudicial killings against militants recommended that Palparan and other commanders be held accountable for the deaths in their areas of responsibility.

“We acknowledge that some members of the AFP have been involved in the deaths of some members of militant organizations but we definitely do not condone these,” the military chief told a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo.

“In fact, more than condemning these acts, we have taken action to investigate them in order to prosecute who are responsible,” he said.

“We will spare no one regardless of rank or position,” he said.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, head of the commission that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formed in August 2006 to look into the political violence following a local and international outcry, said the investigation of the four-member panel showed that “majority of the victims were leftist-activist-militants” and that the suspected assailants belonged to the military.

Melo said holding military commanders responsible for extrajudicial killings was one of the recommendations in the 89-page final report that was submitted to Arroyo last week.

But Esperon maintained that such killings were not sanctioned by the military leadership.

Esperon also admitted that the military never investigated Palparan over the killings when he was still in the active service because no complaints were lodged before military courts.

The military chief said six soldiers were facing charges before civilian and military courts over their involvement in the killings of leftists. One of them, Corporal Alberto Rafon, was discharged from the service in October 2002 for the murder of peasant leader Nicanor delos Santos.

Esperon identified the five other soldiers who were investigated over the killings as: Master Sergeant Donald Caigas, rebel returnee Aniano Flores, Master Sergeant Antonio Torilla, Corporal Esteban Vivar, militiaman Ronnie Canet, and Sergeant Rowie Barua, who recently turned state witness in the murder case of crusading journalist Marlene
Esperat.

However, Esperon disputed Melo’s assertion that Palparan and other commanders were liable for the extrajudicial killings under the principle of “command responsibility,” saying the concept could not apply in this case since “criminal acts only involve the individual.”

Military prosecutors could not run after Palparan since no charges were filed against him before his retirement on September 11, 2006, Esperon explained.

“He [Palparan] was not formally investigated,” the military chief said.

Activists have dubbed Palparan the “butcher” for the murders and abductions of leftists that were reported wherever he was assigned.

In 2003, Palparan was accused of masterminding the killings of human rights workers Eden Marcellana and Eddie Gumanoy in Naujan town, Oriental Mindoro province, where he commanded the 204th Army Brigade.

The resulting controversy prompted Palparan’s assignment to head the Philippine contingent to Iraq.

When he returned to the country in mid-2004, Palparan was named commander of 8th Infantry Division based in the Eastern Visayas region and later to the 7th Infantry Division operating in Central Luzon.

In his last assignment, Palparan was initiating military inspections of residents for their community tax certificate (CTC) or “cedula” to weed out alleged communist supporters in the communities.

Soldiers were accused of mauling civilians and forcing them to eat expired CTCs. Palparan admitted the “cedula” checks but denied allegations of abuse.

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Written by joelguinto

TueUTC2007-01-30T15:26:32+00:00UTC01bUTCTue, 30 Jan 2007 15:26:32 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm01

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Detained colonel stricken with malaria, brought to hospital

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
Last updated 11:44am (Mla time) 01/30/2007

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) MARINE Colonel Ariel Querubin, who is facing court martial over the failed coup d’etat in late February, is stricken with malaria and was transferred to a military hospital in Quezon City on Tuesday morning for treatment, the Philippine Navy’s spokesman said.

Accompanied by three security escorts, a military nurse, and a paramedic, Querubin was moved out of his detention cell in Fort San Felipe in Cavite City at around 7:30 a.m. for transfer to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Medical Center, Commander Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said in a phone interview.

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Earlier, Querubin’s wife, Maria Flor, wrote Navy Chief Vice Admiral Rogelio Calunsag thrice, asking him to return her husband to his original detention cell at the Marine Custodial Center in Fort Bonifacio so he could receive treatment at the AFP Medical Center, which is about an hour’s drive away.

Ms Querubin told Calunsag that her husband’s life was “in danger” since the malaria strain that struck him “can attack the brain and cause cerebral stroke or death.”

But Bacordo said Calunsag could only grant Ms Querubin’s request for her husband to be treated at the AFP Medical Center, not his return to Fort Bonifacio detention.

“Requests for treatment at the AFP Medical Center will be granted as long as his custodians are properly notified…But there is no need to transfer his detention,” Bacordo said.

Querubin will be returned to Fort San Felipe as soon as he gets well, Bacordo said, adding, “It will all depend on the recommendations of the doctors.”

Bacordo cited the case of Marine Colonel Januario Caringal, who was transferred to the AFP Medical Center from Fort San Felipe late last year for hepatitis.

Caringal is recuperating at the Manila Naval Hospital awaiting clearance from doctors to be returned to Fort San Felipe, Bacordo said.

Querubin, Caringal, and six other Marines were moved to Fort San Felipe from Fort Bonifacio in late October after the military claimed to have uncovered an alleged plan to spring them from detention.

they are among 28 Marine and Army Scout Ranger officers facing court martial on coup d’etat charges for allegedly planning to lead soldiers in a mass withdrawal of support from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in late February 2006.

Querubin had been in and out of the Cavite Naval Hospital (CNH) since December due to high blood pressure and chills. He was later diagnosed with malaria, for which he was treated several years back.

“His life may be in danger considering that CNH does not have [the] complete highly specialized diagnostic capability & intensive care and it is very far from V. Luna Medical Center which could provide the necessary medical needs,” Ms Querubin said in an e-mail statement.

“Why will I settle for anything but the best — the best doctors, the best hospital…Even prisoners have the right to seek medical help,” she said.

The V. Luna Medical Center is the former name of the AFP Medical Center, the country’s premiere military hospital, where soldiers wounded in combat are brought.

When she visited her husband in Fort San Felipe on Monday afternoon, Ms Querubin said he was “still weak” and “looks pale and sick.”

In her first letter to Calunsag on Christmas eve, Ms Querubin also pointed out that aside from his serious illness, her husband should be released since as a recipient of the Medal of Valor, the military’s highest honor, he is entitled under law to free consultations in any public or private hospital.

She also branded as “fabricated” the intelligence reports that her husband and the five other Marine officers in Fort San Felipe were planning to escape from detention.

“At this juncture, I am not asking for more, other than their return to the Marine Camp at BNS [Bonifacio Naval Station], Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, if it is impossible to send them back home,” she said.

In her third letter dated January 24, Ms Querubin told Calunsag: “It has reached an alarming stage, Vice Admiral Calunsag. If you have to act, you have to act NOW!”

Querubin was first hospitalized at the CNH from December 17 to 20 and again from January 18 to 20 due to high blood pressure and chills, she said.

The decorated Marine officer had a previous bout with malaria when he was assigned to Palawan in Sulu, his wife said, adding he was also found to have high cholesterol and uric acid levels.

“My husband is now in his golden years. His present incarceration in a high detention cell without any charges or conviction causes severe stress and might worsen his present health condition,” Ms Querubin told Calunsag.

Originally posted at 10:06am

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Written by joelguinto

TueUTC2007-01-30T15:23:52+00:00UTC01bUTCTue, 30 Jan 2007 15:23:52 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm01

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Troops to accept whoever gets defense post

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
Last updated 04:07pm (Mla time) 01/29/2007
MANILA, Philippines — Soldiers will accept whoever President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appoints defense secretary, a military spokesman said Monday amid reports Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. will be taking over the post this week.

The reported appointment of the controversial former National Police chief has not caused any stirring in the ranks, Armed Forces public information officer Lieutenant Colonel Bacarro said.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] will follow whoever the President installs as defense secretary,” Bacarro told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo. “The choice [of defense secretary] is beyond us. I’m sure the President will choose someone who can carry on with the programs at the Department of National Defense [DND].”

Arroyo is near the end of her self-imposed 60-day tour as concurrent defense secretary. She took over from one of her most trusted aides, lawyer Avelino Cruz Jr., who resigned effective November 30 amid reported infighting within the Cabinet over the Palace-backed people’s initiative to amend the Constitution.

Cruz opposed and publicly assailed the people’s initiative as a “harebrained idea” and his former law partner, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, penned the decision that rejected a petition to allow the mode to be used to change the Charter.

In his 27-month stint at the DND, Cruz kick-started the Philippine Defense Reform (PDR), a 20-year reform roadmap for the defense and military establishments.

Ebdane served as national police chief from 2002 to 2004. Under his watch, Indonesia bomb-maker Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi escaped from his detention cell in Camp Crame in July 2003, while Australian Prime Minister John Howard was on an official visit to the country.

Five months before Al-Ghozi’s escape, a huge fire gutted the armory inside the police’s general headquarters.

As Public Works secretary, Ebdane’s was accused of coddling former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, who supposedly talked with Arroyo in purportedly wiretapped phone conversations that administration critics say proved that she cheated her way to victory in the 2004 presidential elections.

Asked if Ebdane was capable of handling the defense portfolio, Bacarro said: “I am sure the President will install the right person who is qualified…Whoever is chosen, I am sure he is qualified.”

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Written by joelguinto

MonUTC2007-01-29T20:13:56+00:00UTC01bUTCMon, 29 Jan 2007 20:13:56 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm01

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