Tag Archive: Voltaire Gazmin


Japan Self-Defense Forces chief Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano is interested in holding more drills with the Philippines, the Department of National Defense said Friday.

The DND made the announcement while warning that China has reached the point of “militarizing” the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Kawano paid a courtesy call to Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Wednesday, after meeting Armed Forces chief General Hernando Iriberri, according to the DND.

Kawano expressed interest in conducting more exercises, “particularly amphibious landing exercises and amphibious operations,” according to a statement issued by Gazmin’s office.

Gazmin welcomed Kawano’s interest but noted that a “visiting forces agreement” is needed before such activities can be conducted.

Kawano, for his part, assured that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for national security legislation that could expand the JSDF’s activities with the Philippines.

Kawano told Gazmin of the need to share information to address “common security issues” and noted the importance of capacity-building in humanitarian assitance and disaster relief.

During the meeting, Kawano also mentioned that China is trying to change the status quo in the region with its reclamation activities, according to the DND.

In a separate statement, DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez warned that China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea are now in “militarization stage.”

“This is the worst stage of all, this is the militarization stage, and it must be stopped,” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

Galvez made the remark when asked to comment on Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua’s announcement that China will build various facilities on reefs which it had reclaimed.

Zhao announced earlier this week that Beijing is set to build facilities that would support freedom of navigation, search and rescue, and scientific research.

“Maybe we should ask: ‘For whom are those search and rescue facilities for? Is it for our ships and installations that they are threatening to destroy?'” Galvez said.

“They’ve said one thing and have done another,” the DND spokesman said, apparently referring to China’s project in Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

It can be recalled that China once declared a construction on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef as a “shelter for fishermen,” though the facility turned into a garrison after a few years.

Aside from Panganiban, China has also done reclamation and construction works in six other reefs in the West Philippine Sea.

Last May, China announced that it will build lighthouses on Calderon (Cuarteron) and Mabini (Johnson South) Reefs — which are both inside the Philippines’ claim line — to “improve navigation safety.”

“Regardless of what supposedly ‘good’details the Chinese leadership informs the peace-focused and rules-based international community, they illegally and blatantly continue with their aggression. These are mere elements of their island building militarization which needs to stop and be dismantled,” Galvez said. (John Roson)

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Poro Point, La Union – The Navy has merged its two regional units guarding the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to boost efficiency in handling maritime issues, a ranking official said Thursday.

Naval Forces West, whose area of operations includes the disputed Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group, was merged with Naval Forces North, whose area covers Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Captain Albert Mogol told reporters here.

The merger was a result of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s directive of “addressing a common threat,” Mogol said.

The unified naval group, activated July 6, is now known as Naval Forces North-West.

It has its headquarters in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, and operates Task Force 41 from there, while Task Force 11 commanded by Mogol is based here.

Task Force 41 now handles all areas in the West Philippine Sea including Panatag Shoal, while Task Force 11 retained “traditional roles” like patrolling waters of Northern Luzon.

“It’s now the country’s biggest naval task force, [covering] five regions and 24 provinces,” Mogol said of Task Force 41.

Under one command, troops and ships can be easily sent to respond to incidents such as poachers operating off Luzon then speeding away towards Palawan.

“What we want is a more efficient command and control against a common threat,” Mogol said.

The official declined to reveal how many ships and troops are now under Naval Forces North-West, saying only that a “sufficient number” had been dedicated.

‘Eye in the north’

Meanwhile, Mogol said the Navy has also set up an identification system in Batanes to monitor foreign vessels entering the country.

Marines are manning the “littoral monitoring detachment,” which shares a building with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration outpost since March, he said.

“We have already an eye in the north,” Mogol said, declining to give further details.

Maritime security issues in Batanes flared recently, after the Philippine Coast Guard said Taiwan counterparts engaged them in standoffs near the northern island province. (John Roson)

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A US Navy LCU participating in last April's Balikatan exercises in Zambales (photo by author)

A US Navy LCU participating in last April’s Balikatan exercises in Zambales (photo by author)

The Philippine Navy has received a landing ship donated by South Korea and is now repairing it ahead of deployments for post-disaster and military operations.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Jesus Millan said the landing craft utility (LCU) from South Korea arrived May 30 and is now at the naval shipyard in Cavite for “some machinery and equipment repairs.”

South Korea handed the vessel for free, along with 16 rubber boats, with the Navy paying only P16 million for the shipping cost, Millan said.

“It was shipped direct from Korea… We just paid for its shipping cost. It will be a big boost for HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) operations and troop transport,” he said in a text message.

US Navy LCU-1631 and USS Green Bay during April's Balikatan exercises in Zambales (photo by author)

US Navy LCU-1631 and USS Green Bay during April’s Balikatan exercises in Zambales (photo by author)

Current repairs are estimated to cost P26 million which, even if added to the shipping cost, is way lower than buying a brand new LCU for P6 billion, Millan said.

Before this, the Navy only had five LCUs, of which three are in operation and two are undergoing repairs, according to Millan.

The newly-arrived LCU has better capabilities than the ones already in the fleet because it is of a newer model, he said.

South Korea offered the LCU, rubber boats, and computers when Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin visited that country in June 2014.

US Navy LCU 1651 (photo from Wikipedia Commons)

US Navy LCU 1651 (photo from Wikipedia Commons)

South Korean officials said the offer — which came amid the Philippines’ territorial row with China in the West Philippine Sea — is for expressing their gratitude to Filipino soldiers’ role in the Korean War during the 1950s.

Following Gazmin’s visit to Seoul, the Department of Foreign Affairs said South Korea will also donate a “Pohang”-class corvette — a type of warship — to the Navy.

Government officials, however, have been mum on the corvette since then, as talk came out that China was “angered” by the offer and threatened to “unleash” North Korea against the South if it continues “arming” the Philippines. (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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Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Japan Defense Minister Gen Nakatani signing a memorandum on defense cooperation. (Japan MoD photo)

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Japan Defense Minister Gen Nakatani signing a memorandum on defense cooperation. (Japan MoD photo)

The Philippines submitted to Japan a list of defense equipment that it plans to acquire from the latter, amid the two countries’ common maritime dispute with China.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed the list’s submission Monday, after returning from Japan where he met with his counterpart Defense Minister Gen Nakatani.

“Lahat ng magagamit to address our maritime security (Everything we can use to address our maritime security),” Gazmin said in a text message, when asked what items were on the list.

The list covers equipment for capabilities in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), HADR (humanitarian and disaster response), and lift, defense department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said for his part.

Last January 31, the Department of National Defense and Japan’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement, saying Gazmin and Nakatani signed a “Memorandum on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges.”

In the memorandum, the defense chiefs “concurred” on, among others, “to explore a possibility of cooperation in the area of defense equipment and technology.”

The two countries “will start working-level discussions” on the matter, according to the statement.

‘Rare agreement’

“This is a very rare occassion, if not the first, [for] the Japanese to sign such a memorandum,” Galvez said.

The memorandum came months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration re-interpreted Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution in July 2014.

The Constitution, enacted in 1947 after Japan’s involvement in World War II, was re-interpreted to allow the country to protect itself thru a “collective” defense with allies.

Japan also adopted what it calls the “Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology” in April 2014.

Navy list

The Philippine Navy submitted to the DND a list of assets that it plans to acquire from Japan on December 26, spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said Monday.

The force is looking at a possible acquisition of patrol vessels from Japan, Navy vice commander Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad said on December 17.

Humanitarian and disaster response equipment like transport ships and sea planes are also in the list, Arevalo said on December 22.

Common sea problems

Japan’s re-interpretation of its Constitution followed China’s deployment of Coast Guard ships and establishment of an “air defense identification zone” (ADIZ) in an area encompassing the Japan-occupied Senkaku Islands.

China lays claim to those islands and calls them “Diaoyu Islands.”

China has also been deploying Coast Guard ships around Philippine-occupied parts of the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands Group off Palawan and the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, areas which they are now preventing Filipino fishermen from entering.

China claims all of the Spratly Islands, which it calls “Nansha Islands,” and Scarborough Shoal, which it calls “Huangyan Island.”

Capability building

During their meeting, Gazmin and Nakatani also agreed on having the Japan Self -Defense Forces (JSDF) help the Armed Forces of the Philippines build capabilities in humanitarian and disaster response (HADR).

“As a part of this project, they (JSDF) will conduct capacity building assistance in the area of air transportation to the members of PAF (Philippine Air Force) in 2015,” according to the defense chiefs’ statement.

The PAF, on the other hand, will try to participate in future versions of “Cope North,” the multilateral combat-readiness and HADR exercise annually conducted by Japan, the U.S., Australia, and other allies off Guam.

The Philippine Navy, meanwhile, will conduct bilateral naval training with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force this year “to promote cooperation in maritime security,” according to the statement. (John Roson)

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Maguindanao clash toll breaches 40

The number of policemen killed in a clash with Muslim armed groups in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, rose to more than 40 on Monday as authorities discussed repercussions of the fighting, which involved a group engaged in peace negotiations with the government.

An “actual body count” of 49 slain PNP Special Action Force (SAF) members was tallied 11:54 a.m., according to a report from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police.

Some of the bodies have brought to the headquarters of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Datu Odin Sinsuat town while retrieval operations for others went on in Mamasapano, according to a copy of the report received 1 p.m.

National Police officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, in a televised press briefing in Maguindanao later Monday afternoon, said 43 killed SAF members have been accounted for while 11 were injured and one is missing.

Seven of the slain police commandos whose bodies have been recovered were officers, Espina said.

3 civilians hurt, 500 families flee

Meanwhile, the Office of Civil Defense-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao reported that three civilians were injured while more than 500 families fled because of the fighting.

Tot Panangulon, his wife Samra, and their 8-year-old daughter Sara were reportedly wounded during the encounter, OCD-ARMM officer-in-charge Myrna Angot said in an emailed report.

A total of 563 families from Brgy. Tukanalipao, where the clash occurred, and neighboring barangays of Pimblakan, Tuka, Pidsandawan, and Dasikil fled their homes, Angot said.

Of that number, 66 families from Tukanalipao are staying at a madrasah (Islamic school) in Brgy. Daladap, while 497 are taking refuge with relatives, she said. 

Gov’t careful on MILF involvement

Ranking officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently in peace negotiations with the government, admitted that members of the group were involved in the clash and defended their action.

Government officials, on the other hand, were careful in mentioning the MILF’s involvement.

“Hindi naman naka-uniporme ‘yung mga nagpaputok kontra sa ating kapulisan but in that area, halo ‘yung mga puwersa. We will know exactly,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas told reporters in Camp Crame.

Roxas made the remark when asked if the MILF were indeed involved in the fighting.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, in a separate interview, said he received information that the members of the smaller Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which had broken away from the MILF, were also involved in the clash.

“Ang pagkaalam namin pumasok dito ‘yung BIFF so we have to run after them,” Gazmin told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Gazmin and Roxas, along with Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang and Espina, later flew to Maguindanao to discuss the situation with local authorities.

Cause of concern

The defense chief, without mentioning the MILF, admitted that the government is “concerned” on how the fighting will affect the peace negotiations.

“Hindi naman kami worried but it is a concern dahil may mga taong ayaw sumama dun sa majority, gagawa at gagawa nyan para mapansin,” Gazmin said, obviously referring to the BIFF.

In a phone interview with reporters, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal admitted that the group is wary of the clash’s possible effect on the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“‘Yun na nga ang pinangangambahan,” Iqbal said.

Congress’ deliberations for the BBL, which will implement the peace agreement signed between the government and MILF last March, were suspended on Monday until authorities complete the probe on the clash.

“Ang importante dito, ‘yung dalawang panig, ‘yung partners sa peace process, mag-usap at tingnan how to move forward, kasi mas mahalaga ‘yung peace process, mahalaga ‘yung BBL,” Iqbal said.

‘Misencounter’

Iqbal defended the MILF’s involvement in the clash, saying policemen “attacked” an MILF area.

“Lumusob ang PNP so nagdepensa ‘yung MILF… Siguro higit na isang company ‘yun, may dalawang wings ‘yung umatake… ‘yung dalawang wings, ‘yun ang nakasagupa ng MILF kasi ‘yung area na ‘yun mga 90 percent MILF area,” he said.

“One hundred percent, 1,000 percent walang coordination sa ceasefire [committee], walang coordination sa Ad Hoc Joint Action Group,” Iqbal added.

Roxas, in the press briefing in Maguindanao, maintained that the SAF conducted a “legitimate operation” Sunday against Malaysian and Filipino bomb experts Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman.

“Isa itong legitimate operation against Marwan and Basit Usman. Hindi ito para manggulo,” the DILG chief said.

What happened between the SAF and MILF appeared to be a “misencounter,” he added.

Members of the SAF were already pulling out of their area of operation in Brgy. Tukanalipao when they encountered “lawless elements,” Senior Superintendent Noel Armilla, officer-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional police, said Sunday night.

“When the Special Action Force
people were withdrawing, they were ambushed by members of the BIFF
and some allegedly, this as to be verified
and validated, had a misencounter with the MILF,” Espina said.

Iqbal said the MILF is conducting an investigation into the clash, but will also wait for the result of a separate probe being conducted by the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team.

Marwan death unvalidated; Basit Usman escaped

Security forces, meanwhile, admitted that they have yet to validate reports that SAF members killed Marwan during their operation.

“According to reports, they (SAF) were able to neutralize one, si Marwan. Although yung isa nakawala, si Basit Usman,” Gazmin said.

“We have no confirmation but that was the report we got last night… We will validate that,” the defense chief said, when pressed for a confirmation on Marwan’s reported death.

“It is most highly likely that he was killed in the process,” Espina said

Marwan, a ranking member of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah born in Malaysia’s Johor state, is wanted by the U.S. government who offers US$5 million for his capture.

He is said to have been hiding in the Philippines since 2003 and was previously reported to have been killed in a military air strike in Sulu in 2012.

Usman, linked both to the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf, is also wanted by the U.S. who offers up to US$ 1 million for his arrest. (John Roson)

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The Philippines has observed an advancement in China’s reclamation at a territory in the disputed West Philippine (South China) Sea and is alarmed over the development, Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said Wednesday.

“About 50 percent na tapos na sila, it’s alarming in the sense that it could be used for purposes other than peaceful use,” Catapang told reporters.

“Mayroong isang nire-reclaim na mahaba-haba, about 1 point something or 2 kilometers. Di pa siya developed as an airfield, pero at that span it could be,” the military chief said.

Catapang made the remarks after coming from a command conference with other ranking officers of the Armed Forces in Camp Aguinaldo.

“We continue to monitor what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea, we are appraised on the situation. We know there is still ongoing reclamation,” he said.

The military chief did not specify which territories in the disputed waters are being reclaimed.

Last September, Catapang said in a media forum that reclamations were observed in two reefs in the Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group.

One of these was on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, which is inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, he said.

Last May, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said reclamation was also observed on Mabini (Johnson South) Reef, where Philippine authorities believe China could be building a “base.”

Meanwhile, Catapang also revealed on Wednesday that the military continues to spot Chinese ships in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, another feature in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines is still waiting for the decision of the United Nations’ International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea on the case it filed against China’s claims in the disputed waters, he said. (John Roson)

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Police scour the RTMI bus that was bombed in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday. (police photo)

Police scour the RTMI bus that was bombed in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday. (police photo)

Authorities are looking at terrorism and extortion as possible motives in the bus bombing that left 10 people dead and 42 others injured in Maramag, Bukidnon, on Tuesday, security officials said Wednesday.

Lieutenant General Aurelio Baladad, chief of the Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao Command, said investigation showed that the bomb had the “signature,” or make, similar to those assembled by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“‘Yung lumitaw, ‘yun na nga, ang signature ng bomb is BIFF,” Baladad told reporters by phone.

Police mark the spot at the overhead baggage carrier where the bomb is believed to have been planted. (police photo)

Police mark the spot at the overhead baggage carrier where the bomb is believed to have been planted. (police photo)

Another military official, who requested anonymity, said the make of the bomb – an 81-millimeter mortar ammunition detonated with a cellphone – points to the group of one Dawtin Gendang of the BIFF.

Gendang and new “graduates” of the BIFF appeared to have carried out the attack on the Rural Transit Mindanao Inc. (RTMI) bus as “test mission,” the official told reporters.

Gendang was previously identified as a suspect in the bombing of another RTMI bus that injured four people last November 6, Inspector Jiselle Longakit, Bukidnon provincial police spokesperson, said.

The bus door after the blast. (Army photo)

The bus door after the blast. (Army photo)

The BIFF, according to the military, has links with bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman who is connected with the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and is wanted by both the Philippines and United States.

The group has also recently expressed support to the Middle East-based jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Tuesday’s explosion occurred inside an RTMI bus around 5:40 p.m. while it was passing through Maramag, on the way to Cagayan de Oro City.

Police said on Tuesday that the bus came from Wao, Lanao del Sur, but stated on Wednesday that it came from Banisilan, North Cotabato.

The blast happened in front of the main gate of the Central Mindanao University (CMU), shortly after the bus picked up passengers at a nearby bus stop.

The blast killed Kim Valiente, 17; Anita Santillan, 54; Marielle Achacoso, 17; Niezel Dee Gonzaga, 22; Catherine Villahermosa, Johnrey Valdesco, John Bernard Cuhanap, Jonathan Balida, Michael Buctos, and a still unidentified person. Some of them are students of CMU.

Forty-two other persons, some of whom are also CMU students, were hurt and taken to different hospitals.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, in a statement, called the bombing a “barbaric” act and called on people to help authorities identify the attackers.

“We condole with the families of the victims of this tragic incident. The DND thru the AFP is in full support and cooperation with the PNP to get to the bottom of this barbaric act,” Gazmin said.

The defense chief declined to say what angles are being looked into, stating that the DND was still waiting for results of the investigation.

Longakit said investigators are initially looking at extortion as a possible motive but have not set aside terrorism.

“We are still coordinating with the bus company on that (extortion angle),” she said, adding that terrorism has “not yet” been ruled out.

A statement released later by the provincial police said the management of RTMI “refused to give extortion fee,” but did not point to any group. (John Roson)

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Palparan falls

Authorities arrested former Army general Jovito Palparan in Manila, early Tuesday, three years after he went into hiding, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said.

Palparan, charged with two counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention, was arrested at a house near corner Teresa and Old Sta. Mesa streets in Sta. Mesa district around 3:30 a.m., Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, chief of the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP), said in a briefing.

Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), backed by operatives of the Naval Intelligence and Security Force (NISF), carried out the arrest, Año said.

Palparan was arrested after he returned from withdrawing money at an automated teller machine (ATM) kiosk, Año said.

“He has been staying at the house for more than three months… Hindi nakapangalan sa kanya ‘yung ATM (card),” the military intelligence chief said.

The house is owned by one Grace Roa, a “long-time friend” of Palparan’s family, and is located at “busy area” with taxi and jeepney terminals nearby, Año said.

He said it was up to the NBI to determine if Roa should be charged for harboring Palparan.

Palparan’s case stemmed from the disappearance of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in Hagonoy, Bulacan, in 2006, when he was still head of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division.

He has been on the run since 2011, after being formally charged at a court in Malolos City, also in Bulacan. 

President Benigno Aquino’s administration has since listed Palparan, who was once praised by former President Gloria Arroyo for successful operations against rebels, as among the country’s top fugitives and placed a P2-million bounty on his head.

“‘Yung informant ng NISF ang makakatangap ng kanyang reward,” said Año, who also heads the military’s Task Force Runway.

The task force was created in 2012 to gather intelligence information that could lead to the capture of high-profile fugitives, including Palparan.

Hunt not easy, Palparan congratulates captors

Año admitted that the hunt for Palparan was not easy, saying “many attempts” were made to arrest the latter in Bataan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, and even in Cagayan de Oro City, but failed.

“He (Palparan) can hide inside a house for days without getting sunshine, he can be very patient not to communicate with family and friends,” Año said.

But at the time of the arrest, Palparan did not resist and even congratulated troops for finally being able to trace him, he said.

“General Palparan really did not resist the arrest. In fact, he was joking with our operatives and he was saying, ‘Ang gagaling ninyo, naisahan nyo ako kasi naging very lax ako,'” Año said.

Año said he was also able to check on Palparan personally, and the latter also congratulated him.

“Sabi niya he is okay, he even congratulated me. Sabi ko, no sir, it’s not about that, it’s looking at your situation now. Sabi naman niya nagpapasalamat na rin sya at nahuli siya, now he can have a proper medical checkup and he can have his day in court,” Año said.

“What I learned is he has some heart problem and he is also diabetic and mataas ‘yung blood pressure,” he added.

Año admitted to having worked with Palparan in some military conferences during his younger years, but said he had not been  assigned under the latter’s command.

‘Surrender feelers’

In a separate interview, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin revealed that Palparan previously expressed willingness to surrender to President Aquino.

“Gusto niyang magsurrender kay Pangulo. Ang sabi ko naman kay Pangulo, bakit sayo magsu-surrender, sa amin na lang, nung sinabi kong sa amin na lang, wala na, nagtago na… Last year pa yata ‘yun,” Gazmin told reporters.

Año said the military has monitored several threats by the New People’s Army (NPA) on Palparan, even when the latter was still an active military officer.

“He (Palparan) has been a subject of manhunt by the NPA… in three occassions, the NPA, especially the special operations group, got close to him but fortunately he was saved because he has his security and he was also changing his pattern,” Año said.

He said the military has made initial coordinations with the NBI on how to ensure that Palparan’s security.

‘No military coddlers’

Major General Domingo Tutaan, Armed Forces spokesman, said Palparan’s arrest in the “interior area” of Sta. Mesa proves that the military was not coddling the former officer.

“May mga nagsasabi kasi na tinatago siya ng AFP, so eto ngayon, hindi pala totoo,” he said.

“I don’t think this will in any way tarnish the image of the AFP,” Tutaan said when asked on the arrest of Palparan, a former officer evidently still held in esteem by many soldiers.

“He (Palparan) has many friends in the military because he was very good officer when he was in the service, but nobody from the AFP is coddling him,” Año said.

Palparan’s arrest “will also allow him to defend himself from all the criminal charges filed against him and face his accusers in court. This will also protect him from the New People’s Army that has a standing order to have him killed,” AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said for his part. (John Roson)

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Sokol choppers grounded

The Air Force grounded its remaining seven Sokol helicopters after one crashed in Marawi City last Thursday.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, for his part, ordered the Air Force to report the crash to the company that made the helicopters, which the government acquired just recently.

“PAF was directed to inform the Sokol maufacturer about the incident,” Gazmin said Friday, adding that the Air Force is now investigating the crash.

Lieutenant Colonel Enrico Canaya, Air Force spokesman, said the remaining Sokol units will be grounded until investigators determine what caused the crash.

A 21-member “investigating and recovery team” led by Col. Frederick Cutler, of Air Force Safety Office, arrived in Marawi from Villamor Air Base yesterday to carry out the probe, Canaya told reporters.

“The Sokol helicopters will not be used for the meantime but we still have other helicopters to fill up the gap,” he said.

The Sokol helicopter no. 291 crashed around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, shortly after taking off from the Army 103rd Brigade’s Kampo Ranao headquarters in Brgy. Saber.

It was supposed to escort two other helicopters carrying Gazmin, Interior Sec. Mar Roxas, and Energy Sec. Jericho Petilla to Cagayan de Oro City.

The ill-fated chopper’s passengers, including Army 4th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, escaped unharmed but its gunner and a civilian child playing near the crash site were injured.

The government bought eight brand new Sokol helicopters from the joint venture of Polish manufacturer PZL-Swidnik and British-Italian firm AugustaWestland for P2.8 billion.

The units arrived in batches in February 2012, November 2012, and February 2013.

The helicopters were supposed be used for combat support operations but were eventually assigned to the Air Force’s 505th Search and Rescue Group, after its side door and gun mount were found “unfit” for the military’s tactics.

They are now being used to conduct rescue operations in times of calamities and transporting VIPs.

The incident in Marawi was not the first time for the Sokol units to encounter problems.

In July 2013, another Sokol helicopter (no. 925) was stuck for five days in Camp Aguinaldo after failing to take off due to an undisclosed mechanical problem.

That helicopter was supposed to escort the group of Gazmin to an Air Force event in Pampanga. (John Roson)

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