Tag Archive: Gregorio Pio Catapang


A littoral observatory station. (Navy photo)

A littoral observatory station. (Navy photo)

The Navy plans to upgrade its base in Cagayan and is set to put up more surveillance stations in Northern Luzon to boost maritime awareness, a ranking official said.

Up for development is Naval Base Camilo Osias, the forward operating base in Cagayan’s northernmost town of Sta. Ana, said Captain Albert Mogol, commander of Naval Task Force 11.

“[What will be developed there is] our capability to respond and to monitor whatever activities are happening in that area to protect our interests in the north,” Mogol said in a recent interview with reporters.

The base, which has its own airstrip, was “primarily” for humanitarian and disaster response activities, he said.

Mogol’s remarks came in the wake of reports that foreign poachers increased activities in waters around Cagayan and neighboring Batanes.

Recently, the Philippine Coast Guard reported that even Taiwan Coast Guard ships have been entering waters near Batanes and had engaged its smaller patrol boats in two standoffs.

Mogol said earlier that the Navy has already set up a “littoral observatory station” in Batanes to help monitor the entry of foreign vessels.

Marine troopers are manning the facility, which shares a building with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration, he said.

More surveillance stations

Mogol said more littoral observatory stations are set to be put up in different areas of Northern Luzon soon.

“We are expanding, ang concentration natin is ‘yung situational awareness, ‘pag sinabi nating situational awareness, may radar, monitoring stations, kasi ‘yun ang kailangan natin dahil mahaba ‘yung coastline natin,” he said.

“We’ll be putting up several observatory stations in areas na hindi natin masyadong nakikita ‘yung nangyayari,” the official said.

In September 2013, then Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command chief Gregorio Pio Catapang announced a proposal to put up littoral observatory stations in Batanes, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan, and Aurora.

The Navy expects to set up six more “fixed” littoral observatory stations in different parts of the country this year in addition to the 20 it already has, according to a brochure it published in 2014.

The force will also use the frigates BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz, as well as seven helicopters, as “mobile” observatory stations and link these to the fixed facilities, according to the document. (John Roson)

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Outgoing Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang said additional troops have been deployed to Batanes to help prevent intrusions, and suggested that a naval base be built there.

“The next na kailangan i-develop natin, maghanap tayo ng magandang naval base, o i-develop natin na naval base, dun sa Batanes,” Catapang said in an interview by state-run television PTV-4.

The military chief said he has already told the Navy about the plan, which should be implemented after building the naval base in Oyster Bay, Palawan.

The base being built in Oyster Bay is envisioned to guard against intrusions in the West Philippine Sea, where China is reclaiming and building structures on reefs. The planned facility in Batanes should guard against poachers, usually from Taiwan.

“I think this year they will ask for funding,” Catapang said.

Catapang made the remarks as he revealed that an additional platoon of Navy personnel have been sent to Batanes, where Filipino and Taiwanese coast guard members recently figured in standoffs.

“It’s the marching order of the President to also look into that area,” he said.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Jesus Milan, for his part, said forces in Batanes were increased “to secure mission-essential facilities being used for monitoring activities in the maritime domain.”

Navy personnel there are also tasked to plan for “improvements,” including the development of areas where boats can be docked, Millan told reporters by phone.

According to Millan, the Navy currently has no base in Batanes and sailors assigned there are only staying at offices of other government agencies.

Meanwhile, the Navy chief said more sailors were also deployed to Zambales and other “strategic areas” around the country to prevent the entry of poachers.

“Increasing ang poaching activities so we need to improve on our system and procedures… Ang problema lang, wala nga tayong pera to support the modernization of facilities,” he said. (John Roson)

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Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island. 2008 photo by author.

Residents in Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island have started promoting the island as a tourist destination amid tension among countries claiming the Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group in the West Philippine Sea.

Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez, chief of the Armed Forces’ Western Command, confirmed that the tourism campaign has started albeit at a small scale, and said the military stands ready to help.

“We can help organize tour packages,” Lopez told reporters in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

Lopez made the remark after visiting Pag-Asa Island with Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang, other military officials, and reporters last Monday.

During the visit, reporters saw some residents of Pag-Asa — where only fish was peddled before — selling souvenir shirts promoting the island as a tourist spot.

White shirts printed with beaches, starfishes, aerial pictures of Pag-Asa, and other Philippine-occupied territories in the Spratlys are being sold at the Kalayaan municipal hall for P280.

One resident also makes “tuba” (coconut wine) and offers this for P75 a liter to visitors.

Such merchandise were not seen on the island before, until China boosted its presence in the West Philippine Sea.

Reclamation and construction on China-held Subi Reef as seen from Pag-Asa. Photo by author.

Reclamation and construction on China-held Subi Reef as seen from Pag-Asa. 2015 photo by author.

Chinese warships and Coast Guard vessels are frequently seen in the disputed waters while construction and reclamation works are ongoing in China-held features including Subi (Zamora) Reef, which is only about 25 kilometers from Pag-Asa.

Residents said they have also been seeing Vietnamese fishing vessels straying near Pag-Asa — particularly at a reef to the island’s east and a sandbar to the north — and carry out dynamite fishing.

Lopez said the military cannot “actually escort” tourists to Pag-Asa because that’s not in its mandate, though helping arrange tours is allowable.

In his visit, Catapang said the military will “reinforce” tourism efforts, though securing visitors would be a joint effort with Coast Guard and local government agencies because Pag-Asa is in “internal waters.”

Tours could be extended to the other Philippine-occupied islands Patag (Flat), Kota (Loaita), Panata (Lankiam), Lawak (Nanshan), Likas (West York), and even Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, he added.

Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said the tourism campaign will go full scale “next year” after the town buys a 25-meter steel-hulled boat for P10 million.

The Pag-Asa airstrip's western edge. 2015 photo by author.

The Pag-Asa airstrip’s western edge. 2015 photo by author.

The boat project, which is aimed at ferrying visitors from a jump-off station from mainland Palawan, comes while the government has yet to repair the airstrip on Pag-Asa.

A chunk of the 1.3-kilometer airstrip’s western edge has eroded into the sea, though small aircraft and military planes can still land.

A “pasalubong” (souvenir) shop and lodge will also be opened on Pag-Asa to cater to tourists, Bito-onon said. (John Roson)

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Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Friday directed military pilots to continue patrols over the West Philippine Sea despite China’s challenging of Philippine planes.

Gazmin gave the order after expressing concern that China appears to be already practicing an “air defense identification zone,” or ADIZ, over the disputed waters.

“Ito ay cause for concern sapagkat parang pina-practice ng China na mayroon nang ADIZ although wala pang formal declaration,” Gazmin said during a briefing of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

“Ang directive natin ay continue ‘yung kanilang (pilots) normal na trabaho, hindi dapat natatakot sa mga babalang ganito,” he added.

The defense chief’s remarks came after Armed Forces Western Command chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez told a Senate hearing Thursday that China warned Air Force and Navy planes at least six times to leave areas around the West Philippine Sea.

“They are acting as if they already have an ADIZ in the area,” defense department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said Thursday night.

China first declared an ADIZ over the East China Sea in November 2013, covering a group of islets occupied by Japan.

It demanded that all countries with aircraft passing through the zone submit flight plans, or otherwise face “defensive measures.”

The move caused a stir not only in Japan but also in the Philippines, whose exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the west covers some islands and reefs being claimed by China.

Officials expressed concern that China might next declare an ADIZ over the West Philippine Sea, including territories which the Philippines has been occupying for decades.

China’s challenging of Philippine military planes, done via radio, were reported after Manila released aerial photos showing Beijing’s reclamation and construction works on some reefs in the disputed waters.

Last March 30, Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang said China has stepped up construction and reclamation on at least seven reefs, including three that are inside the Philippines’ EEZ.

Gazmin said the DND has already reported its observations to the proper agency and will continue to monitor China’s activities. (John Roson)

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More troops sent to Maguindanao

The military has deployed additional troops to Maguindanao amid continuing operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Members of the Samar-based 34th Infantry Battalion arrived in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Saturday, said Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

“The deployment marks the start of the ‘holding phase,’ where government forces will establish encampments in former lairs of the BIFF to prevent the armed lawless group from going back,” Petinglay said.

The battalion will also augment the 6th ID’s efforts in maintaining peace and security in Maguindanao, as well as parts of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Lanao del Sur, she said.

Rebel casualties rise

Meanwhile, Armed Forces public affairs chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said the number of BIFF members killed in military operations since February has reached 139.

Fifty-three members of the rebel group have been wounded and 12 more were apprehended, he said.

Cabunoc said the number of slain rebels rose from the last week’s count of 117, not because there were new clashes, but because of the military’s validation of intelligence reports.

“‘Yung ibang wounded namatay na, at saka mayroong iba na hindi listed as patay or wounded, pero patay pala. ‘Yung iba naman body parts lang, na-artillery, di agad nakilala,” he said.

Operation: Graduation

Cabunoc said operations against the BIFF members will continue even as soldiers are set to conduct peace and development activities in areas where clashes had occurred.

“Security forces will continue to conduct focused military operations against the armed threats like the BIFF and the terrorists that they have coddled,” he said.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said the hunt for the remaining BIFF members and bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman will be continued until June.

Local authorities in Maguindanao, however, expressed concern over the operations’ effects, especially on students, and even called for a halt to allow graduation exercises this month.

Cabunoc said Catapang ordered the 6th ID to “facilitate” graduation exercises, by helping government and school authorities identify areas where such events can be held.

“They will jointly identify specific places, ‘yung clear na of the armed group,” he said.

Cabunoc said ongoing operations will not affect graduation ceremonies, as BIFF members have already splintered into small groups that roam in the marshlands of Maguindanao.

“Itong BIFF nag-splinter na into small groups, nasa marshlands na ang mga ito, wala nang schools doon,” he said. (John Roson)

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