THE PHILIPPINE Navy is deploying three new multi-purpose attack crafts and augmentation troops in Western Mindanao as the military steps up its campaign against threat groups in the region, especially the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Navy chief Vice Admiral Ferdinand Golez sent off the ships Friday at rites held at the Navy headquarter in Manila. These vessels will be assigned with the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, one of the operating units under the military’s s Western Mindanao Command.

Golez also sent off troops from the Marine Battalion Landing Team 8 (MLLT-8) which will be deployed to Palawan. A C-130 plane flew them to Palawan, which hosts a small number of communist insurgents.

The MBLT 8, composed of about 600 officers and men, will replace the MBLT 9 which has the same number of personnel complement that will be flown by the same plane to the Abu Sayyaf-infested Western Mindanao.

Two other ships were sent off by the Navy chief during the ceremony. One of them will be assigned in Palawan while the other will be detailed in Eastern Mindanao.

“The deployment of the 8th Marine Battalion and our floating assets to their respective AOR (area of responsibility) is in response to the requirements of higher headquarters to address the need for increased tempo of operations in the operational area,” said Golez.

Golez said he expects the troops and the assets he sent off “shall live up to their reputation and sacred honor in pursuing their mission.” He asked them to “faithfully execute the pertinent phases and aspects of our operations up to their successful conclusion.”

Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said the MBLT 9 will be initially staying at Zamboanga City, home of the Westmincom. He said the augmentation battalion will later be deployed either to Basilan or Sulu.

“The intensified drive to flush the Abu Sayyaf bandits and other lawless groups from their lairs in southwestern Mindanao takes a sharp turn in favor of the government with this fresh input of a battalion of battle-hardened marines,” said Arevalo.

The bandits are still holding a number of hostages in the region, the most prominent of whom is Italian Eugenio Vagni, the last of the three hostages snatched last Jan. 15.

Arevalo said the newly-acquired multi-purpose attack craft that are being deployed to Western Mindanao are greatly needed in addressing the threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf.

The attack craft, which can cruise at top speed of 42 knots, are mounted with caliber 50 machine guns, and can load up to 20 fully armed Marine Navy SEAL Teams.

“Taken altogether, this deployment of naval assets and the rotation of two marine battalion landing teams (MBLTs 8 and 9) is a welcome development in the operational landscape in southern and western Philippines,” said Arevalo.

He said the ships that were dispatched will also “run after violators of maritime, environmental, anti-drug, tariffs and customs, and immigration laws.”

“The addition of these five Navy vessels is expected to help boost Team AFP’s quest for dominance in their areas of operation in terms of maritime law and law enforcement, seaborne operations, humanitarian activities, and direct and support roles in internal security operations,” said Arevalo. (PNA)

By Ines B. Tagacay

dsc_0076NAVY VICE Admiral Golez hands the Navforwest flag to Commodore Cortez, who is taking over its leadership from Commodore Espera.

COMMODORE ORWEN J. Cortez has been installed as the new chief of the Naval Forces West (Navforwest) last week in a simple turn over ceremony presided by Vice Admiral Ferdinand S. Golez, the flag officer in command (FOIC) of the Philippine Navy.

Cortez has served as former deputy commander of the Navforwest in 2007 before moving to the Philippine Navy Fleet in Sangley Point, Cavite in 2008.

Outgoing Navforwest commander Commodore Ramon P. Espera is transferring to the PN Headquarters to go on a General Staff College Course (GSCC). He was awarded a Military Merit Medal by the PN for his service as commander of Navforwest from March 5, 2008 to March 30, 2009.

Under Espera’s watch, the Navforwest ably conducted Internal Security Operations (ISO) with a total of 506 seaborne missions, which restricted communist terrorist (CT) movement in the area of responsibility (AOR).

Likewise, he initiated psychological operations (PSYOPS) by conducting two “Show the Flag” missions, which brought basic government services closer to the people of Palawan.

Relatedly, NFW also accomplished an aggregate total of 66 Civic Action Programs that benefited 11, 616 indigents through the construction of high-impact projects.

On territorial Defense Operations (TDO), he directed a total of 314 seaborne and 28 air operations missions, which preempted the occupation and construction of structures in the unoccupied islands in the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIG).

Moreover, these operations resulted to the apprehension of one Chinese and Vietnamese fishing vessels poaching in Philippine waters, confiscation of 101 sea turtles, illegally caught fish, and numerous paraphernalia being used for illegal fishing.

On Maritime Law Enforcement (MARLEN), he was instrumental in curbing various nefarious activities through the conduct of 412 surface missions that resulted to the apprehension of 364 personalities involved in illegal logging and fishing, the confiscation of 58 watercrafts with 32, 371.03 board feet of illegally cut logs on board, and the confiscation of more or less 90 kilograms of marijuana with a total amount of P25M for all the confiscated items.

Under his leadership, 16 Search and Rescue Operations (SAR) were undertaken that resulted to the rescue of 80 distraught victims, two fishing vessels and three watercrafts.

In his farewell message, Espera thanked all the men and women of the Navforwest for their untiring support and deep sense of professionalism. He also thanked the local government units (LGUs), non-government organizations (NGOs), private companies and individuals, who contributed to reach out to the different charitable institutions, like the Bahay ni Nanay and the Children’s Joy Foundation. He also expressed gratitude to the members of the WESCOM Defense Press Corps (WDPC) who make the Naval Forces West known to the Palaweños.

Meanwhile, Cortez vowed to preserve the core business of national security, focus in operations in crimes against national security, or on those crimes that tend to undermine national security. He said the Navy will also maintain a watchful eye against terrorism and transnational crimes, such as piracy, smuggling, firearms and explosives trafficking, drugs and human trafficking, which are basically maritime problems.

“This year being the deadline for the drawing of baselines, we expect increased Naval activities in the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIG) due to overlapping claims for sovereignty. Our task would be much easier to perform if we have the support of the local populace,” Cortez said.

He encouraged all Navy personnel to continue the civil military operations thrust to assist in bringing progress and development, particularly to the less fortunate brothers in the island municipalities. “We know each other and you know that I have always advocated for the supportive leadership model,” he added.

By Ines B. Tagacay

THE CRIMINAL Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) has recently filed four criminal charges against a Philippine Navy (PN) officer who was tagged as the mastermind in the kidnapping of an American national on February 19.

Charges of kidnapping, robbery, attempted murder and violation of Republic Act 9262 (Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004) were filed by the CIDG against Cdr. Rodrigo B. Jaca on the date of the incident and on February 23 at the City Prosecutor’s Office.

Jaca is the commanding officer of the Naval Systems Engineering Center (NSEC), Naval Sea Systems Command (NSSC) in Port San Felipe in Cavite City, Navy spokesperson Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo told Palawan Times.

Provincial Police Chief Inspector Danilo Mendoza of the CIDG identified the alleged kidnapped victim as 54-yrs. old Cynthia Castro Kramer, an American citizen who works as a nurse (other media reports claimed she’s a caregiver) to Mary Lee Moore, 66 years old, an American national, who is a disabled diabetic, and a resident of 55 Burgos Street, Barangay Masikap.

Details of the case disclosed by the CIDG revealed that at about 6:30 p.m. on February 19 in barangay Tagumpay, Mendoza received a phone call from lawyer Roland Pay, who reported about an “ongoing kidnapping incident.”

Kramer and Moore were reportedly aboard an elf-type white van on their way home when they noticed that a green Delica van with plate number RBK 537 was tailing them until they reach a basketball court in Tagumpay.

Believed to be wearing a black jacket, fake hair and a cap, Jaca allegedly drew his gun, pointed this on Kramer, and threatened “papatayin na kita ngayon” or “I will kill you now.”

Jaca was said to have pulled the trigger, luckily, the gun didn’t go off. Kramer managed to free herself and ran away, but Moore was left inside the vehicle. The suspect took a bag containing personal belongings of the two victims, which contained a Nokia cell phone worth PhP15,000.00, credit cards, driver’s license, passports, plane tickets, cash amounting to PhP20,000.00, important documents and assorted jewelry amounting to PhP100,000.00.

“Jaca was my live-in partner for seven years. Because he has no word of honor, and he constantly threatens me, I lost the appetite to live with him. What’s hard about this is that he has kidnapped my patient,” Kramer told the media in an interview.

At around 8:20 p.m. of the same date at Junction 2, Malvar Street, San Miguel, elements of the PNP Provincial Command, City PNP and CIDG found Moore and arrested Rommel Frias, the driver of the Delica van.

Thirty nine years old, married and a resident of Typoco Village, San Manuel, Frias was with Moore when she was found by authorities. The CIDG is still determining his responsibility in the cases.

Meanwhile, Arevalo of the PN said in a text message to Palawan Times that Jaca’s case is “isolated” – appearing to be a “spurned suitor of Kramer” – he probably plotted to get back at his former live-in partner.

“The Philippine Navy confirms that there is a Navy officer by that name. We have received a report that he was indicted in a Prosecutor’s Office in Puerto Princesa, along with one other for kidnapping; while this does not speak well of a Naval officer, this is an isolated case, an act which is purely personal borne of his domestic problem as our internal investigation indicates. Since a criminal case has been filed against him and his company, he should be held personally responsible for his alleged felonious acts. The Navy for its part will not tolerate such acts inimical to good conduct and military discipline thus will fully cooperate with the authorities in the legal and lawful resolution of this case,” Arevalo said.

Arevalo also told Palawan Times that the officer reported for duty from pass (leave) during flag raising ceremony at Naval Base Cavite last February 23. He said Jaca was notified by Rear Admiral Josefino Solidum, his commanding officer, regarding newspaper reports narrating his alleged involvement in a kidnapping incident.

“Cdr. Jaca was advised to remain in his house in Cavite City. He heeded, expressing his voluntariness to make himself available should there be summons sent or warrant for his arrest issued. Phil. Navy informed MIMAROPA Chief/Supt. Luisito Palmera of Jaca’s availability wherefore a team of CIDG was dispatched for Cavity City to get Cdr. Jaca’s statement. The Navy maintains its commitment to the observance of due process both for Jaca and his accuser to the end that justice is served thereby,”Arevalo stated in addition.

By Ines B. Tagacay

SEVEN CREWMEN of a fishing vessel that was transporting around 200 undocumented logs and timber of banned species of trees from Bugsuk Island, Balabac were apprehended by elements of a patrol gunboat of the Naval Forces West (Navforwest) Philippine Navy (PN).

The watercraft they were using was identified by Commodore Ramon Espera, the acting commander of the Western Command (Wescom), as M/L Fatima. It was accosted by Patrol Gunboat 392 (PG) at approximately 8.4 nautical miles east of Bugsuk Island at around six o’clock in the morning of November 22.

He said assorted pieces of Kamagong and Ipil were confiscated from the crewmen who failed to show documents that could prove their transport was legal. The lumbers were allegedly taken from barangay Sapa, Bataraza.

“We found out that these lumbers aboard the M/L Fatima were from barangay Sapa, Batatraza and they plan to bring them to Kudat, Malaysia without securing necessary documents,” Espera said.

Initial investigations conducted by authorities on the crewmen revealed that the vessel is owned by a certain Jumdiya Usman of barangay Sicud, Mapun, Tawi-Tawi and is headed for Kudat, Sabah, Malaysia.

According to Espera, the vessel was first spotted on radar by PG 392 while conducting routine maritime patrol mission at around 4 a.m. of the same date. A Navy crew allegedly reported that the vessel was traveling without its lights on to avoid being noticed.

This prompted the Navy elements to contact the said vessel through a marine band radio and instructed them to stop for boarding. But the M/L Fatima did not heed instruction and instead, sped away and tried to evade the naval gunboat.

A chase that lasted almost an hour at sea ensued. They only stopped when the PG fired a warning shot against them.

The vessel was towed to Puerto Princesa City where a joint inventory and inspection with personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Charges for possible violation of applicable provisions in Presidential Decree 705, or the Revised Forestry Code, are being readied against the persons responsible.

By Ines B. Tagacay

THE ANNUAL Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise ended successfully on June 3, 2008 in Puerto Princesa at the headquarters of the Naval Forces West (Navforwest).

The CARAT Philippine phase was successful because both our military forces cooperated on many levels at sea. We’re able to train our people, not only the Philippine Navy members but also our U.S. counterparts. Besides, most of our U.S. counterparts were able to learn about the culture of the Palaweños. We were able to provide some other engineering services, particularly classroom and some medical support to our local residents,” said Rear Adm. Petronilo Magno, commander of the Philippine Navy fleet and guest of honor during the closing ceremony.

Magno said ensuring freedom of the seas by increasing maritime security efforts in the region is a primary focus of the CARAT exercise. He added tha this year the CARAT mission included enhancing regional cooperation, increasing interoperability and building friendships between the United States and six ASEAN nations-Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei as one good reason why the conduct of the CARAT exercise.
Both the Philippines and U.S navies used the Combined Enterprise Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS) to communicate quickly and effectively at sea levels. CENTRIXS played a major part during the at-sea phases and a real-time communications capability that gave commanders a comprehensive tactical picture.

CARAT exercise involves U.S Navy, Philippine Navy, U.S Coast Guard, and Philippine Coast Guard, some elements of Philippine Air Force, U.S Navy Seabees and U.S Marines.

Eight ships from the U.S and Armed Forces of the Philippines took part in the exercise. U.S. ships that participated are dock landing ship USS Ford (FFG 54); USS Jarrett (FFG 33); USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC 722).

Philippine CARAT assets included patrol ships BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS 37); BRP Nicolas Mahusay (PG 116); BRP Bony Serrano (PG 111) and BRP Pampanga.

Air assets P-3 Orion from US and Philippine Navy islander aircraft were also involved in the exercise.
Sa part ng mga sundalo natin sa Philippine Navy, na-improve iyong kanilang skills in different aspect ng naval operations, border search, maritime interdiction, marine operations and of course, na-expose sila sa mga bagong equipment ng US Armed Forces. Napakalaking tulong ito sana muling maulit dito sa Palawan,” Naval Forces West Commodore Ramon Espera noted.

U.S and Philippine Navy doctors, dentists, veterinarians, nurses and corpsmen provided medical, dental, veterinary care for villagers and engineering works. Some Palaweños had the opportunity to benefit from this Filipino-American teamwork. A total of 1,222 people availed medical care; 90 circumcisions; 78 deworming; 498 tooth extraction; 10 cyst removal and 191 in veterinary cases undertakings in Aborlan, Palawan. On the engineering side Philippine and U.S military engineers completed engineering projects including 3 new classrooms were also donated at Panacan Elementary School in Narra, Palawan.

Philippine and US navy men also visited schools and community centers; donated dental health and hygiene, sports equipment, wheelchairs and others. These are part of the Community Relations (COMREL) projects. Some of the COMREL projects were held at West Central School, Share a Life Center, Bahay ni Nanay, Mauricio Reynoso Memorial Elementary School and Puerto Princesa Pilot Elementary School.

In an interview with Lt. Robert Kufle, CTF-73 US Navy, he believes that in the end, building relationships between two navies are one of the most important outcomes of the exercise. He said the annual exercise exchange embodies the spirit of the longstanding cooperative relationship between the United States and Armed Forces of the Philippines.

By Ines B. Tagacay

“NO LOYALTY check.” This was what three top ranking officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said when asked if the reason for their frequent visits in the province was due to reports that soldiers here are being recruited to join the destabilization plot against President Arroyo.

Newly installed Philippine Air Force (PAF) commanding general Lt. Gen. Pedrito Cadungog, Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) commandant Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino and Vice Adm. Rogelio Calunsag of the Philippine Navy (PN) were the three high ranking military officials of the country who recently visited Palawan amid reports that retired military officials are going around the country to enlist soldiers to join them in an alleged grand plan to bring down the Arroyo administration.

Cadungog who graced the 35th Anniversary of the 570th Composite Tactical Wing (CTW) in the province on February 2 said his visit was not because he wants to do a “loyalty check” but because he wanted to join in the celebration.

Commenting on the question however, the top ranking PAF official vowed he will not turn his back against the Arroyo administration no matter what happens, even if he’s killed. “This time, they will have to kill me first or I kill them,” he said as a matter of fact.

Cadungog warned that if any of the PAF men in Palawan joins the destabilization plot, they will have to answer to the rule of law. He is positive that the soldiers in the PAF are intact and remain loyal to the commander-in-chief.

On February 5, it was Dolorfino who arrived in Palawan. He too denied that his visit was because he was making sure the Marines remain loyal to President Arroyo.

Dolorfino said he’s in Palawan to join the GRP-JMC in conducting a seminar workshop on Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) for the Marines of Marine Battalion Landing Team 9.

Next who visited on February 6 was the Philippine Navy’s flag officer in command, Vice Adm. Rogelio Calunsag. Like Cadungog and Dolorfino, he too denied that he’s in Palawan to do “loyalty check.”

But Calunsag was here to attend the turnover ceremony at the Naval Forces West and to send off the Layag-Lakbayan 2008.

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