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MANILA (via PhilAmPress) — Filipino and American troops will launch a naval disaster drill off Casiguran, Aurora near the Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean during this year’s joint Balikatan military exercises which start on May 8.

 

Officials said the joint military exercises, the 33rd between the two countries, would now focus on humanitarian response drills.

 

Dubbed as Civil-Military Activities from the Sea (CMA-S), the joint naval disaster maneuver will be conducted off the coastal areas of the country’s eastern seaboard.

 

This year’s Balikatan will involve units of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

 

“Our ships with the US and the PCG will navigate from Subic Bay and they will be passing by the waters off Zambales, Cagayan Valley on their way to Casiguran, Aurora for launching of the sea-based disaster response scenario,” Balikatan spokesman for the Philippines Maj. Frank Sayson said.

 

Sayson said the joint disaster naval exercise along the Pacific coastline from Subic is expected to start on May 7 and be completed with a week.

Culminating event for the CMA-S drills will be the landing of relief items and supplies in the coastal area of Casiguran on May 15.

 

An announcement from the US Embassy in Manila stated that Philippine and U.S. forces will kick off Exercise Balikatan 33-2017 through community engagement activities in Panay, Leyte, and Samar.  

 

U.S. and Filipino service members will work together to renovate five schools and conduct community medical engagements with local residents in the opening days of the 12-day military training exercise.  Preliminary work on community infrastructure projects began mid-April.

 

Balikatan 33-2017 incorporates high value training events designed to enhance the capabilities of both AFP and U.S. armed forces.  The training focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in order to improve response effectiveness and speed in the event of natural disasters and other crises that endanger public health and safety.

 

This year’s exercise will have AFP and U.S. forces partnering to improve their counterterrorism capabilities in order to build safer communities and work towards the eradication of global terror networks.  During Balikatan, U.S. and Philippine forces will conduct operational and counterterrorism training exercises in diverse areas of expertise, including live fire advanced marksmanship, counter improvised explosive devices (IED), maritime interdiction, and amphibious raids.

 

In this year’s Balikatan, the Philippines and the United States will continue to collaborate with regional partner nations: forces from Australia and Japan will participate in all major training events, and the AFP has invited military forces from several other nations to be part of the International Observers Program.

 

“I cannot tell you yet how many assets will be committed by the participants but definitely, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be fielding many for this activity,” Sayson said.

 

Casiguran is among the remotest towns in the eastern seaboard nearest to Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean. The town is often in the path of the powerful storms blowing in from the Pacific.

 

A separate joint quake disaster response drill in an urban setting will also be undertaken by combined Filipino and American troops at the headquarters of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

 

Foreign and local observers were invited to the event on May 12.

 

Sayson said the planners of this year’s Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder) agreed that both Filipino and US forces must harness not only their fighting skills but also their disaster response capabilities.

 

Sayson said the joint quake disaster response drill is most important to Filipino troops as the Philippines is prone to earthquakes, being situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

 

The AFP has committed several of its engineering units to join the quake disaster response drill. 

 

President Duterte has ordered this year’s Balikatan to focus more on humanitarian and disaster response activities instead of the usual war games.

 

Balikatan is scheduled for launching on May 8 and will end on May 16.President Rodrigo Duterte to proceed with an exploration of the Benham Rise next week.

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MANILA — The camp of Vice President Leni Robredo paid P8-million as first installment of the P15.44 million required by Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) on the election protest filed by former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. filed against her.

 

Robredo paid the amount after the PET denied her petition to defer her payment of P15.44 million as deposit for her petition to dismiss the election protest. 

 

Robredo won the 2016 vice presidential race with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos who got 14,155,344 votes.

 

Robredo said that the down payment came from her personal funds and loan from relatives of her late husband former Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.

 

”Ang P8 million po hirap na hirap tayo para ibigay, iyong P36 million po ng mga Marcos isang iglap nandiyan na agad. Pero tayo po kahit mahirap, kahit po maraming pagsubok ang pinagdadaanan, hindi naman po natin ipapayag na basta-basta nalang kunin sa atin ang boses ng taumbayan,” Robredo said.

 

”Alam po ninyo na ang laban na ito hindi lang po ito tungkol sa akin. Ang laban pong ito tungkol sa ating lahat. Tungkol po sa ating mga Pilipino na nangnanais na hintuin na ang dating kalakaran sa ating pamahalaan. Nagpapasalamat po kami na kahit napakahirap po ng laban, alam po natin kung gaano kahirap labanan ang mga Marcos, maraming pera, talagang ang pagnanais makabalik sa kapangyarihan nandiyan,” she added.

 

The second tranche of payment of P7.43 million is required to be given on July. 

 

Last March 21, the PET ordered Marcos to pay  P66,223,000 for the 132,446 precincts for his election protest against Robredo to proceed.

 

The tribunal earlier required Robredo to pay about half of the cash deposit of PHP8 million last April 14. But after rejecting her appeal on the order, she was given five days from receipt of the latest order to pay the amount. 

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MANILA — The United States is the nation most trusted by Filipinos – and China the least, based on a Pulse Asia survey conducted from March 15 to 20.

 

The poll showed trust level for the US at 79 percent; Japan, 75 percent; Australia and Great Britain, 69 percent and 53 percent, respectively.

 

Only four in 10 have trust in Russia and China – at 42 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

 

President Duterte has established stronger relations with China and Russia while expressing dismay at the US for the latter’s critical stand on his war on drugs.

 

“That’s par for the course. After all these years we’ve been programmed to think that these are the enemies,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said referring to China and Russia, in reaction to the survey result.

 

“The President is breaking free as a disruptor so… it’s par for the course,” he added.

 

In the survey, 63 percent of respondents said they could not trust China and 56 percent voiced the same opinion of Russia.

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MANILA — Retired policeman and Davao killings whistleblower Arthur B. Lascañas  left the country on April 8 for Singapore.

 

It was gathered Lascanas may have flown later to the United States where his family has been residing.

 

Bureau of Immigration Spokesperson Antonette Mangrobang noted that the Lascañas presented himself at the Immigration counter of the Clark International Airport in Pampanga at around 5:01 pm last Saturday.

 

"Sa Clark (Airport) siya dumaan. Tiger Airways flight 2703 to Singapore," she said.

 

The BI official explained that Lascañas was allowed to depart since there are no orders to prevent him from leaving the country.

 

"He has no derogatory record. Wala siya hold departure order, immigration look out bulletin that could have delayed or prevented his departure," she added.

 

Mangrobang said that Lascañas was with his family.

 

"(Accompanied by) family. In their ticket parang 4 sila kasama siya," she added.

 

The BI official said that the passenger has a returning ticket dated April 22.

 

"Sa ticket sa Clark din ang pabalik niya (Lascañas)," Mangrobang said.

 

Lascañas, along with Edgar Matobato, is a self-confessed member of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS).

 

Lascañas left the Philippines after he received threats that a lawsuit would be filed against him, and that people were looking for him as well.

 

In October 2016, Lascañas denied the existence of the Davao Death Squad and that he was the supposed "team leader" of the squad, as claimed by self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato.

 

In February, however, he said that the DDS indeed exists and that they were paid by then-Davao City Mayor and now President Rodrigo R. Duterte up to P100,000 depending on their target.

 

Lascañas recanted his earlier claims following kidney surgery.

 

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QUEZON CITY — Former President Benigno Aquino III has been ordered by the Office of the Ombudsman to reply to a motion asking that he be reinstated as a respondent in cases filed over the discredited Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

 

The complainants, led by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, are asking the Ombudsman to reconsider its March 7 decision dropping the case against Aquino and approving charges of usurpation of legislative power only against former Budget Secretary Florencio Abad for issuing National Budget Circular No. 541, which authorized the withdrawal of unobligated allotments of government agencies to implement the P72-billion DAP.

 

The controversial disbursement program, which critics had dubbed Aquino’s “presidential pork barrel,” was essentially declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court along with the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or congressional pork.

 

The Ombudsman said Abad had “unlawfully encroached” on Congress’ powers by modifying the provisions of savings of the 2012 General Appropriations Act.

 

It noted that Article 239 of the Revised Penal Code punishes the offense with of prision correccional, or six months, and temporary special disqualification.

 

The motion for reconsideration asks that Aquino be charged with graft and malversation.

 

The special panel of investigators of the Ombudsman has given all parties to the DAP cases 15 days from notice to file their comments.

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QUEZON CITY — The net satisfaction ratings of the government's top officials, other than that of President Rodrigo Duterte's and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez's, declined during the first quarter of the year, according to a Social Weather Stations survey.

 

Vice President Maria Leonor Leni Robredo's net rating (percentage satisfied minus percentage dissatisfied) took the biggest dip, with 53 percent of respondents satisfied with Robredo, 27 percent dissatisfied, and 19% undecided.

 

This dropped the vice president's net satisfaction rating to a "moderate" +26, from the previous quarter's "good" +37.

 

The SWS classifies net satisfaction ratings of +70 and above as “excellent”, +50 to +69 as “very good”, +30 to +49 is “good”, +10 to +29 is “moderate”, +9 to -9 is “neutral”, -10 to -29 is “poor”, -30 to -49 is “bad”, -50 to -69 is “very bad”, and -70 and below is “execrable.”

 

An impeachment complaint has been filed against Robredo over her recorded video message last March, where she revealed alleged police abuses, including the "palit-ulo" scheme and warrantless searches, in its campaign against illegal drugs.

 

A group of lawyers supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte had also announced that they were working on an impeachment complaint against the vice president.

 

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III also saw his rating drop to a "moderate" from the previous quarter's "good". His +30 rating during 2016's fourth quarter lost a point, giving him +29 rating during 2017's first quarter. 

 

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's rating lost two points from the previous quarter's +16. Nevertheless, her +14 rating during 2017's first quarter kept her in "moderate" territory.

 

In contrast, Speaker Alvarez's rating posted a gain in the first quarter, climbing to a "moderate" +12 from the previous quarter's “moderate” +10.

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TAGBILARAN CITY — At least four government troops and five alleged Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) rebels were killed in the early Tuesday encounter in Sitio Ibaya, Barangay Napo in Inabanga town, Bohol.

 

The government casualties comprised an Army lieutenant, two soldiers and a member of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), said Lt. Dodie Belloga, commander of the 47th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Bohol.

 

One soldier was also wounded in action, Belloga added.

 

Also, government troops recovered five bodies of armed men and confiscated four high-powered firearms, including three M-16 Armalite rifles and one M-4 rifle, he said.

 

Authorities in the island- province of Camiguin, a popular tourist destination in Northern Mindanao, heightened their security as government troops and members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group clashed in Bohol on Tuesday.

 

Reports said that five Abu Sayyaf bandits and four government troops were killed following the clash in Inabanga town.


Lt. Col. Belloga disclosed that the joint Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP operation was carried out after they received intelligence reports of the presence of unidentified armed men, numbering more or less 10, in Bohol.

 

The government troops immediately set out at the break of dawn Tuesday to track down the said armed men, and while on patrol, an encounter ensued around 6:45 a.m., where the government forces immediately lost four of its troopers during the first volley of shots, he said.

 

Hot pursuit operations ensued as the police and military continued to close in on the rebels, he added.

 

An air strike by government’s F260 planes at the encounter site was launched hours later as hundreds of civilians in the area were made to evacuate to safer ground.

 

Lt. Col. Belloga said he earlier told the mayor of Inabanga and the village officials that residents must be evacuated so they would not be caught in the crossfire or used as hostage or human shield by the armed group.

 

The clashes continued sporadically until Tuesday afternoon as military and police personnel were determined to not allow any of the suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits to leave the island.

 

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MYANMAR — President Rodrigo Duterte now wants to enhance relations with the United States under the Trump White House and is prepared to “give all” to Washington except military deals.

 

Speaking before the Filipino community in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Duterte said he was “okay” with Trump and was eyeing a better working relationship with his US counterpart.

 

“President Trump and I are on good terms. And I can assure him also of our friendship and cooperation.

 

There’s no problem with that,” the President said, noting that Trump gave his support to his administration in addressing the drug menace in the country, unlike Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

 

“For the previous president, I was evil. The crazy man was planning to jail me. This other one (Trump), he said, ‘You’re right,’” Duterte said.

 

Duterte said he was ready to “give all, whatever it is” under the Trump administration – except for military alliances.

 

“Short of, I said, the military alliances, I don’t like that. We can’t handle those,” he added.

 

The President stressed that the Philippines could not afford to get involved in conflicts, especially since its military is not as well-equipped as that of the US.

 

“We can’t do that. Why do we look for trouble? Why would I go there just to pick a fight… Let’s not look for a fight. Someday, but not now,” he added.

 

In a media interview in Myanmar, Duterte described Trump, a billionaire realtor and former reality TV star, as a “realist.”

 

“He is a guy who knows what is real, what is not, and he does not engage in theories. And even in the matter of human rights, he takes into account everything,” he said.

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MANILA (PhilAmPress) — A group of volunteer lawyers and professors are mulling a second impeachment complaint against Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo but President Rodrigo Duterte, who himself is facing a separate impeachment complaint, had asked them and his allies to stop the filing of complaint.

 

This developed as House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez  said he is studying the possibility of filing an impeachment complaint against Robredo, whom he accused of having a hand in the first impeach move against Duterte.

 

Robredo herself said he supported Duterte’s statement that the impeachment process was too early for her and the President who have just started their six-year term.

 

Robredo, who was invited by the President together with her daughters to a dinner in Malacanang, at the same time, expressed doubt about the impeachment complaint against Mr. Duterte, pointing out that the allegations against the President were acts when he was the mayor of Davao City.

 

 Robredo said any moves to impeach Duterte and herself would be a distraction to governance and further polarize the country.

 

She said she shared Duterte’s opinion on impeachment. “Wala pang isang taon kaming nahahalalmaraming problema na dapat asikasuhinAng impeachment ay hindi biromay nakaraan na tayo sa impeachment, alam natin (It hasn’t been a year since we were elected. Impeachment is no joke, we have a history of impeachment, we know) how divisive it is,” she said.

 

Sobrang dami na nating problemang inaatupag‘pag nagkaroon ng impeachment laban sa President, sa akinparang maraming trabahong hindi magagawa (There are so many problems needing our attention, if there is an impeachment process against the President, against me, so much work will remain undone),” she added.

 

But an opposition lawmaker immediately warned Speaker Alvarez he could be ousted and replaced if he will insist on going against President Duterte’s call to stop attempts to impeach Vice President Leni Robredo.



“House members are also not keen on the Speaker’s plan and will not be supporting it. Otherwise if the Speaker will insist on it, he would be facing a mutiny in the House,” said Rep. Tom Villarin (PL, Akbayan).



Villarin said the Speaker “cannot go against his principal and would have to tone down his rhetoric against VP Leni Robredo.”



The biggest threat to Alvarez’ post is Rep. Gloria Arroyo (Lakas-CMD, Pampanga) who was recently stripped by Alvarez of her post as deputy speaker for Central Luzon for voting against the death penalty bill, because of the former president’s closeness to Duterte.


Rep. Rodel Batocabe (PL, Ako Bicol), president of the Party List Coalition (PLC), said the President is doing the right thing because an impeachment “will further polarize our already divided country.”



“The campaign and election period have already passed and it is now the time to heal and galvanize our nation to work for the common good,” he said.


In the Senate, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Duterte’s allies can push through with their plan to impeach Robredo.



“It’s a free country,” Pimentel said.



Sen. Francis Pangilinan, LP president, said he is no longer surprised with Pimentel’s statement “considering there are other forces aligned with the President who see the Vice President as a threat to their own political plans.”



Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, on the other hand, said politics should “take the backseat” among government officials so the impeachment complaint should be shot down.



“Both have been in office for only nine months. Let’s pass laws helpful to Filipino families,” he said.

 

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said he will support Speaker Alvarez on his planned impeachment complaint against  Robredo despite President  Duterte's pronouncement to end to any ouster move against the Vice President.

 

"I am going to support it. Ang alam ko si Speaker ang nagsusulong… Si Presidente (Duterte) naman, personal opinion niya lang yun. But it will be the power, it will be a congressional call not president's call,” Aguirre said.

 

Aguirre vowed to support the impeachment charges against Robredo based on her video message against President Duterte and his administration sent to the United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drugs, believing they have basis in law.

 

"Ang ginawa n'ya, pinahiya niya ang Pilipinas so I’m sure na aside from damaging the image of the Philippines, may epekto yan economically," he noted.

 

The DoJ Secretary said the impeachment against Robredo, a vocal critic of the administration's war on illegal drugs, would succeed if the complainants would be able to establish the violations she was supposed to have committed against the Constitution.

 

Earlier, Solicitor General Jose Calida said he will support Rep. Alvarez's plan to file an impeachment complaint against Robredo over the latter's video to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs where she criticized the conduct of the administration’s anti-drug campaign.

 

"I fully understand and support the sentiment of Speaker Bebot Alvarez that VP Robredo should be rightfully condemned for slandering and selling out our country and its leaders before the UN Commission on Narcotics Drugs,” Calida said.

 

In Quezon City last week, lawyer Bruce Rivera said his group is already laying the groundwork in drafting the impeachment case against the Vice President which could take two to three weeks of case-building.

 

The group is composed of Rivera, Atty. Tom Berenguer, Atty. Trixie Angeles, Prof. Antonio Contreras, and Interior Assistant Secretary Epimaco Densing III.

 

“Leni Robredo has gone too far. We demand accountability. She needs to answer to us now. It is clear that in her determination to further her political stature she is willing to bring the Filipino nation to perdition even at the cost of Filipino integrity and self-determination,” Rivera said.

 

“We have decided to file for her impeachment. She can no longer be allowed to continue in this manner. Not anymore. Not at our expense,” he added.

 

Without giving specifics, Rivera said the general grounds for impeachment against Robredo are betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, and other high crimes.

 

Rivera said the group expects to file the impeachment case at the House of Representatives before sessions resume in May.

 

Although President Duterte has already stated that he will not allow any impeach move against the Vice President, Rivera and his group would still push through with their complaint, stressing that they are not the “President’s minions”.

 

Angeles also categorically denied they are “agents of the President.”

 

"We understand the President’s predicament -- he wants the best for the Filipinos. (But) We’re not doing this for the President, but for the Filipino people," Rivera said.

 

Rivera  denied that this impeachment case against Robredo is in retaliation to the impeachment complaint filed by Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano against Duterte.

 

"Hindi naman kami mga mercenaries o mga gang na bumebwelta or rumeresbak… We are not defending President Duterte in the impeachment case," Rivera said.

 

"At the end of the day, we have reason in filing (an) impeachment complaint against Robredo," he added.

 

Robredo said impeachment should be a last recourse.

 

Ito na lang ba ang remedy na natitira para ma-resolve ang lahat ng problema natin? … Sana hindi ganito kabilissana napag-usapanmedyo nabigla tayo (Is this the only remedy left to resolve all our problems? … I wish it were not this swift, I wish thing were discussed, this caught us by surprise),” she said.

 

Robredo said she had doubts about the impeachment complaint filed against Duterte by Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano.

 

Iyong allegations eh noong mayor pa si Pangulobakit iyong allegations eh noong mayor pa siyaPero balita ko may balak pang i-file na supplemental (complaint), siguro titingnan natin (The allegations date back to when the President was still a mayor, why raise allegations from when he was still mayor? But I hear they plan to file a supplemental complaint, maybe, let us see).”

 

Speaker  Alvarez  said the House of Representatives will stand by its constitutional duty to hear impeachment complaints against high-ranking officials, even as President Duterte called for an end to any ouster moves against Vice President Robredo.

 

Alvarez said while he respects the position of President Duterte, he said the lower chamber should still do its mandate under the Constitution.

 

"We respect the President, but we have to do our duty as mandated by the Constitution," Alvarez said.

 

Alvarez further cited the separation of powers in government in pushing through with the impeachment of Robredo.

 

"Mayroon po tayong separation of powers at kami po sa House of Representatives ay kinakailangan namin ‘yung kahit anong complaint or impeachment, kailangan namin i-proseso iyan," Alvarez stressed.

 

This after President Duterte thumbed down the “divisive” impeachment process against Robredo, whom he said was just exercising her freedom of expression in criticizing the administration’s narcotics crackdown.

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TAGAYTAY CITY — President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed the government peace panel to produce a signed bilateral ceasefire agreement with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as both panels resume talks in Utrecht, The Netherlands even as he set four conditions before the government agrees to sign a bilateral ceasefire.

 

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte has instructed the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to reiterate the terms for a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

 

Abella, quoting OPAPP Undersecretary Nabil Tan, listed the terms set for the bilateral ceasefire:

1 There should be clear parameters or Terms of Reference for the ceasefire;

2.The government shall not recognize any territorial claims of the CPP-NPA-NDF;

3. The CPP-NPA-NDF should cease the collection of revolutionary taxes and the conduct of extortion and extraction activities and arson;

4. The CPP-NPA-NDF shall release all prisoners.

 

Duterte had previously mentioned these terms, saying these are some of the reasons he lifted the unilateral ceasefire and cancelled the peace talks last February.

 

However, Duterte explained last week that he is willing to let go of his ego and talk to the rebels in another attempt to have peace in the country.

 

“At least I have complied with my promise. We are talking to everybody. The traditional enemies of the state, they are talking with us,” he said in a speech in Malacañang last Thursday.

Meanwhile, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has urged businesses not to give in to the extortion rackets of the New People's Army (NPA), following a series of NPA attacks against companies that refuse to give in to their demands.

 

"I, therefore, call upon all peace-loving Filipinos to resist these thugs, these terrorists who have brought nothing but misery to the Filipino people in the past 48 years. Let us resist their extortions because giving in will make them strong and perpetuate their criminal acts," he said in a statement.

 

"Fellow Filipinos, in the past weeks, the Communist Terrorists who call themselves the New People's Army went on a rampage, burning equipment and properties of companies that refuse to succumb to their extortions. They do these to companies that build roads, export produce, transport people -- activities that help generate employment and wealth for Filipinos," Lorenzana stressed.

 

By committing these atrocities, the NPAs have shown themselves to be anti-progress and anti-poor, the defense chief added.

 

"We at the Department of National Defense share in the vision of President Rodrigo Duterte of building a nation worthy of Filipinos and Filipinos worthy of a nation. The path to real, lasting peace is indeed not without its struggles, thus it is important that we stay committed to this goal, and to let our actions reflect our intentions," he said.

 

The series of unprovoked attacks against military and civilian targets last February prompted the government to suspend its peace talks and ceasefire with the rebels.

 

Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) chief negotiator Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the panel received instructions from the President during their meeting in Davao City. Also present in the meeting was Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza.

 

Bello said there will be no unilateral declaration of ceasefire on the part of the government prior to the holding of the 4th round of talks. Bello stressed that the bilateral ceasefire issue is first on the agenda of the negotiations.

 

Bello said the government panel composed of lawyers Angela Librado, Antonio Arellano and Rene Sarmiento and Hernani Braganza are prepared to hold the next talks with the NDFP.

 

Amid the increasing offensive attacks by the New People's Army (NPA) rebels especially in Bukidnon, Agusan and Davao areas, Bello said the government panel will continue to be steadfast in their efforts and resolute in putting a closure to the armed conflict.

 

“We owe this to our people. Our millennials deserve it,” Bello said in a press briefing in Malacanang aired live on television.

 

Bello is hoping they would arrive at a consensus on the bilateral ceasefire to end the hostilities on the ground.

 

“We expect the discussion in this round of talks to be very, very, very difficult and exacting but we shall be persistent in advancing the cause of peace as inspired by our President’s determination to unite our people,” Bello said.

 

It can be recalled that during the third round of talks in Rome, Italy, the GRP panel already gave the NDFP the draft bilateral ceasefire agreement, which the NDFP panel agreed to review.

 

Bello said part of the discussion are sensitive issues including the definition of buffer zones, the definition of the collection of revolutionary tax, the choice of referee.

 

“We were for a while under the impression that our third party facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government, would be willing to be the referee,” Bello said.

 

Both panels would have discussed the draft bilateral ceasefire last February but this was stalled after Duterte decided to pull out the government panel.

 

The President’s decision came on the heels of the announcement of the NPA in Mindanao to terminate its unilateral ceasefire declared in August. The termination of the unilateral ceasefires by both sides resulted to a number of clashes between the NPA and government troops.

 

Given the setbacks, Bello underscored President Duterte’s efforts and initiatives to achieve an inclusive and lasting peace in the country.

 

Following the announcement of the Communist Party of the Philippines on their intention to declare a unilateral ceasefire before the 4th round of talks, Bello said the President wants the bilateral ceasefire agreement signed.

 

“I think we should concentrate more on this (bilateral ceasefire) more important agreement because this is where we will be assured of the lowering or ending of hostilities,” he pointed out.

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