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Promoting your blog at the expense of your sources and operational security

The modernization community is very very small. What you choose to reveal about a project can very well betray your source. Details that, in reality, you should not even know in the first place . . . if it were not for the trust that that person placed in your discretion. The deeper you get into modernization research, the more you encounter information that you CAN’T reveal. That’s why RESPONSIBLE people who are in-the-know, tend to just shut up about the various projects both for operational security, as well as the personal security of the people that confide in them. In your effort to promote your blog as the go-to source for defense information, you could have very well just ended a career or two, and tainted a bunch of others. EGAD

Traveling to Pag-asa island: 2013

At over 300 kilometers west of Palawan, the islands of the Municipality of Kalayaan are among the most remote communities in the Republic of the Philippines. It is in the same league as Basco in Batanes, and Mapun (Cagayan de Sulu) and Bongao in Tawi-Tawi.  What sets this municipality apart, however, are the a unique combination of barriers-to-access that have greatly retarded its development. This article explores those challenges.

Travel period

Travel to the island is only advisable within a narrow window each year. As per reports from the office of the municipal mayor, the interval between April of May presents the best weather conditions for both sea and air travel. As will be described later in this article, optimal sea conditions are essential for travel by boat.

While weather information specifically for Pag-asa is unavailable on various online weather Websites, Weather.com publishes weather information for nearby Song Tu Tay island — formerly Pugad Island.

http://www.weather.com/weather/5-day/Song+Tu+Tay+South+West+Cay+VMXX0030:1:VM

Travel by air

From the air, Pag-asa’s defining feature is its 1.3 kilometer runway: Rancudo airfield. It is an unpaved coral airstrip, covered for the most part, by grass, named after a forward-thinking Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force who had it constructed in the early 70s.

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As per a Memorandum of Agreement between the Armed Force of the Philippines and the Municipality of Kalayaan, signed in October 5, 2005, the airfield is open for joint civilian and military use. However, no regular commercial flights visit the island.

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To date, Rancudo does not appear on the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines’ (CAAP) official list of airports and has not been rated as a civilian aerodrome. The latter reportedly presents aircraft charter companies with potential aircraft insurance issues, thus serving as a deterrent to service. As per the above agreement, responsibility for having Rancudo rated as an aerodrome rests with the municipality — whose attempts to initiate the rating process, thus far, have been unsuccessful. Rejuvenated efforts to pursue certification are currently underway by way of the KIG development forum FB group and on Timawa.net

Despite the lack of  a civilian rating, on July 20, 2011, a Dornier DO-228 became one of the first chartered commercial flights to land on Pag-asa island. The passengers (which consisted of a congressional delegation and other government dignitaries) chartered the plane at a cost of PhP65,000 per flying-hour and PhP7,000 per hour on stand-by time, for a total price tag of P1.8M. The rates quoted were a function of the aircraft type and cheaper alternatives would have reportedly been available. The impact of the unrated airstrip on overall cost is unclear at this point.

Travel time to Pag-asa by air is approximately two to three hours by propeller-driven aircraft.

dornier

Travel by sea

As of writing Pag-asa island does not have port facilities. Ships, therefore, have to weigh anchor off-shore — exposed to the waves of the West Philippine Sea — and transfer cargo to shore via small boats. This greatly limits the times of year when the island is accessible by sea, as well complicates disembarkation of potential investors and tourists. The struggle to build this port is chronicled in the following article: Timeline: Kalayaan Sheltered Port Project.

In addition to passage on-board Philippine Navy transports that reach Pag-asa on a quarterly basis, Pag-asa residents also travel to and from the Palawan via the MARINA-rated municipal service boat: M/L Queen Seagull. This is a 200-ton-capacity wooden boat that can get underway at 9 knots. From Puerto Princessa, via the Balabac strait, it can reach Pag-asa in 56 hours under favorable weather conditions. When sailing from Ulungan Bay on the western side of Palawan, total travel time is 32 hours. Arguably, much too lengthy a transit for most visitors.

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Red tape

Of the nine occupied islands and above-water outposts that make up the municipality, only Pag-asa island — the seat of the municipal government — is currently open for civilian occupation. The rest of the municipality is restricted to military use. In addition to military personnel, Pag-asa hosts a community of fishing families and municipal workers that have established a variety of livelihood activities on the island and have even setup a municipal health center and an elementary school for the 20 children that call the island home.

The heavy military presence, and the international controversy over sovereignty over the islands and the waters around them, mean that anyone who seeks to travel to Pag-asa must obtain clearances from various Philippine government offices.

The Kalayaan Extension Office (KEO) in Puerto Princessa is available to assist potential travelers wade through the clearance system. The municipality maintains excellent rapport with the Western Philippine Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which has jurisdiction over the islands, and is therefore familiar with requirements at that level — which until a few years ago had largely been issued for domestic travelers.

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The system’s complexities are particularly pronounced when dealing with foreign tourists. The KEO discovered this to its dismay in 2011 when an Australian-led international group of ham radio enthusiasts attempted to organize an expedition on Pag-asa. As related by the incumbent mayor, The Civil Aviation Administration of the Philippines (CAAP) would not approve a flight plan to the Pag-asa without clearance from the AFP. The AFP wouldn’t grant such clearance without approval of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). The DFA, in turn, did not appear to have a clear policy about granting foreigner-access to the island. The resulting delays eventually scuttled the expedition.

As of writing another group, this time led by Fil-Am enthusiasts, is gearing up for an ham radio expedition in 2015. With two years of advanced preparation time, the KEO, in cooperation with volunteers from various sectors, hopes to sort out all relevant procedures before the targeted expedition date.

Of the four key hurdles: weather, air access, sea access, and red tape — the latter is both the principal show-stopper, as well as the issue that should be the easiest to address. It is, after all, merely procedural and can resolved if all relevant agencies simply get together and work out a process.  The reward for such inter-agency cooperation, is best exemplified by the Malaysian Spratlys outpost on Layang-Layang, which boasts of a thriving international diving destination with regular air transportation to its concrete runway — despite being co-located with a Malaysian Navy base.

Today, travel to Pag-asa Island is exceedingly difficult. Only the hardiest, or individuals with professional interest, would dare to visit the island. But with the build up of attention to the territory thanks to the power of social media and the efforts of ordinary Filipinos who were willing to take action beyond mouse-clicks and keyboard strokes, those difficulties are expected to diminish over time. The fate of the 2015 ham expedition will be an acid test for these efforts.

A drastic solution to erase the monicker: “reservist ka lang”

One long-standing source of friction between regular and reserve members of the AFP has been the contentious issue of rank assignment. While the matter has been an often-side-stepped elephant-in-the-room for years, it came to the fore in late 2011, when reservists themselves raised questions in social media about the direct promotion of Congressman Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao from Senior Master Sergeant (a rank he received on May 4, 2009) directly to Lieutenant Colonel. Current regulations apparently allow such things to happen. His meteoric rise in the Non-Commissioned Officers ranks were by virtue of his prowess in the boxing ring, while his promotion to officership was by virtue of Sec. 44 of RA 7077 which states.

SEC. 44. Elected Officials and Presidential Appointees. -Elected officials and presidential appointees may be commissioned in the Reserve Force subject to the existing AFP rules and regulations.

It highlighted the state of affairs with regard to rank assignment in the reserves. Reservists, who had been faithfully serving in the reserves for years without a defined path to promotion, lamented the ease with which command privilege could be used to hand out ranks. If reservists can find fault, one can only imagine how professional soldiers feel about this, and how it affects their attitudes toward the force as a whole.

This article postulates that rank assignment procedures plays a part in fostering the prevailing AFP attitudes towards the reserve force as a whole. It also offers a drastic solution that may give reserve force offers a clear cut way to earn their ranks in a manner that is beyond reproach. This was first posted by the author on Timawa.net on March 26, 2011.

Background

By the time a regular officer reaches the rank of Major, he/she is expected to have already achieved a certain level of command experience and required schooling. Whereas the advance to Captain is often regarded as being almost automatic, earning a “sun” is where officers really have to work at it. A fair number of military careers actually end at the rank of Captain, when promotions to the next rank either become unlikely or do not occur in a timely manner.

The same is true of regular Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO). One does not become a staff sergeant without having put in one’s share of time in the field, and/or field of specialization. NCOs are regarded as the backbone of the AFP, specifically because they are the epitome of “been-there-done-that”.

In the reserves, on the other hand, such ranks are often assigned with no regard to a reservist’s combat record or comparable performance metric. Perusal of reservist rosters will reveal scores of Majors and above, and supposed senior NCOs, who have neither been under fire, nor experienced in managing real-life crisis/emergencies, and are therefore unexposed to the challenges their equivalents in the regular force are already expected to have experienced. Prevailing regulations even allow the automatic assignment of the rank of Lieutenant Colonel from the outset, without requiring the recipient to have experienced the four preceding levels.

A fair number of reservists on the Timawa.net forum have lamented disparaging comments from regulars about being told “reservist ka lang”. One reservist in particular brought up the issue that this disrespect of reservist ranks runs contrary to regulations pertaining to military courtesy and discipline.

On paper, the complaint is valid. An officer, right or wrong, is accorded a level of respect by military regulations. All those below his rank, are expected to extend the appropriate courtesy. But given the general prevailing rank-assignment policies in the reserves, strict enforcement of such regulations is a slap-in-the-face for career military men who attain their ranks through blood, sweat, and tears.

If regular officers/soldiers look down upon their peers who spend more time in headquarters than in the field,what attitude would you expect from them when faced with reservist officers whose boots had never tasted mud?

The disconnect between ranks and actual qualifications needs to be addressed. If reservist ranks are to be respected — both on paper and in practice — the reserves must shed the perception that it is populated with unqualified officers.

Proposals

1. Re-establish the rank of Third Lieutenant, and creation of an enlisted rank tentatively called “Kawal”

2. Establish a point system to qualify for promotions

3. Set maximum ranks for reservists

4. Match promotion requirements in the reserves with those of the regulars, an ensure reservist access to these trainings

Each is explained in the “Details” section.

Desired outcome

1. Eliminate the rank-skill-set mismatch in the reserves

2. Create incentives for participation in unit activities and for participation in the technical service

3. Encourage the entry of retired AFP personnel in the reserves

Details

Re-establish the rank of Third Lieutenant and establish the rank “Kawal”

“Third Lieutenant” would be the starting point for all reserve officers, putting them below 2nd Lieutenants.

Adding this layer gives the reserve force rank structure room for upward mobility, while avoiding questions about qualifications, particularly when comparing entry level reservist officers with graduates of regular-officer training programs (e.g., OCS, PMA, PAFROPP, PAFFS, etc.). Third Lieutenant is the rank that Marcos started with. If was good a enough starting point for the strongman, it should be good enough for everyone else. From the strongman’s MOV writeup: http://www.army.mil.ph/VALOR_AWARDEE/marcos.html

2. MAJ FERDINAND E. MARCOS

. . . Then 3rd Lieutenant Marcos led a hastly organized company-sized blocking force from remnants of 4 units. The defensive action against 2,000 highly-trained and well-equipped men prevented the possible decimination of the withdrawing USAFFE Troops and delayed the inevitable Fall of Bataan.

Advancement to 2nd Lieutenant would be contingent on a reservist officer’s demonstration of the skills that are expected of a regular 2nd Lieutenant.

To implement this, the AFP Reserve Command would have to draft a list skill-sets that a reservist officer would need to have to match their peers, thus giving officers a proper, clear-cut, path to advancement. Members of the Technical Services, who acquire their advanced ranks by virtue of their degree and direct, full-time, service to the AFP would naturally be exempted from this process.

“Kawal” would be a new rank, one grade below Private, and would form the first rank assigned to reservists immediately after completion of training. Reservists should be encouraged to move beyond this rank by matching minimum physical fitness, marksmanship, and other standards that all Privates/Seamen/Airmen are expected to meet. As with officer requirements, the AFP Reserve Command must draft a proper skills requirements so that reservists are given a fair chance at advancement.

A Private in the reserves must possess the exact same skills that a Private in the regular force. Until that is demonstrated, a reservist is “Kawal”.

 

Point-system to qualify for promotions

To qualify for promotion in a particular year, reservists must earn qualfication points by performing functions such as the following (Let us temporarily set aside discussion about how many points are assigned per activity):

– Active membership in the Ready Reserves with corresponding participation in unit activities
– Service as assistant military instructors in ROTC units
– Participation in mobilization, both actual and simulated
– Performance of public service functions (e.g. law enforcement, etc.)

The point system should be designed to attract individuals with skills that are useful in a crisis (e.g., paramedics, firemen, safety officers, security officers, Red Cross volunteers) or possession special qualifications (e.g., marine engineers, ship captains, etc.)  to join the reserves since the regular performance of their jobs — by itself — already gives them a leg up. It would also mean that, for example, an accountant or a clerk whose day-to-day activities do not promote maintenance of relevant skills must take it upon himself to get involved in additional activities that put him in the running for advancement.

Failure to respond to mobilization calls will result in deduction of points from points already accrued. Point deficits will be recorded and carried over year-after-year, and can only be extinguished by continued accumulation of points or with active military service (this includes techncal services).

Another consequence of this system is that it rightfully slows down promotions in the StandBy Reserves, thus creating an incentive to join the Ready Reserves.

 

Set maximum ranks for reservists

This proposal is central to addressing the rank-qualification issue.

Reservists who have not rendered at least two years of active military service (to include the Technical Services and the CAFGU) will not be allowed to possess ranks above Captain. The practice, therefore, of assigning Lieutenant Colonel ranks to graduates of the Masters in National Security Administration would need to be discontinued.

Rank caps would be as follows:

-> Captain for officers
-> Sergeant for enlistedmen

That means whenever you see a Major in the reserves . . . this is a person who REALLY knows the functions that Majors are expected to be able to perform.

Understandably . . . this would create situations where Captains command reserve divisions.

 

Match promotion requirement in the reserves with those in the regular force

Any reservist seeking ranks beyond captain must satisfy the same promotion experience requirements that a regular captain would.

This would virtually eliminate lingering doubts about the skill-sets of mid-level officers in the reserve force. One of the underlying sources of . . . separation . . . therefore, would be eliminated.

This equal-opportunity policy, however, would require the AFP to take steps to accommodate reservists in their training programs, and fully implement the following provisions of RA 7077:

http://adroth.ph/reservist/law/7077/art9.htm

SEC. 51. Training of Individual Reservists and Reserve Units. – Maximum opportunity shall be afforded the reservists to update their skills through compulsory or voluntary training. Such training shall have for its principal purpose the enhancement of the readiness of the individual reservists and reserve units to respond to the call to service. To this end, there shall be two (2) types of training:

(1) Compulsory training of not less than thirty (30) days but not more than sixty (60) days for reserve units and/or individual reservists in a given year preferably to First Category Reservists; and

(2) Voluntary training subject to the capability of the AFP to provide the training. Individual reservists, commissioned and noncommissioned officers shall be encouraged to undergo training on a voluntary basis to upgrade their proficiency with priority to the officers and key noncommissioned officers of the Standby Reserve units. The Secretary of National Defense shall prescribe the course of instruction for the aofrementioned training. The services of qualified individual enlisted and officer reservists shall be utilized to the maximum in the conduct of ROTC and reservists’ training.

As a consequence of such a drastic increase in requirements, the following adjustments would arguably have to be implemented. Barriers to reservist participation in these courses must be eliminated.

-> Key advanced officer courses must have slots specifically for reservists that seek further military schooling. An LTC in the reserves who doesn’t have a GSC, for example, must be given a chance to earn it.

-> Certain basic combat courses should also be opened to reservists

-> Military Occupation Specialties (MOS), other than Infantry, must be made available

-> State colleges and universities must make their athletic facilities available to any reservist that seeks to use them to prepare for Physical Fitness tests. Singapore, for example, does this because it regularly tests the physical fitness of their reserve force.

-> Police and AFP firing ranges must be open to reservists and possess a minimum amount of ammunition for marksmanship practice for reservists. Reservists must be both taught how to shoot, and allowed to remain proficient.

If the AFP is serious about maintaining a competent reserve force, then it must provide training for both the reservists themselves, and for the regulars who may lead and look after their welfare in a crisis.

Transition

Implementation of a change this drastic will undoubtably ruffle feathers. So a transition plan must be put in place, for example 5 years from the time of implementation, to give reserve units a chance to disseminate the relevant information, and to give reservists a chance to make the relevant adjustments.

All existing reservists ought to be given the right retain their current ranks. It isn’t their fault that the reservist system they walked into was flawed, and therefore, should not be penalized for it. However, they must be subject to qualification tests and peer reviews to determine their suitability for the positions they hold. Failure to do so within a prescribed amount of time (for example the 5 years stated above) could, for example,  result in automatic demotion by one rank per year of avoidance. This should bring most people to within the prescribed rank-range.

Ultimately, the goal of this proposal is to assure all parties concerned that a reservist, at any rank, is at par with his/her contemporaries in the regular force — in all aspects. Not only does this relegate the “reservist ka lang” phrase to the vocabulary of the close-minded who cling to pre-conceived notions without the benefit of fact-checks, but also guarantees that the Filipino people get the reserve force that they both need . . . and deserve.

P8M for Philippine Navy Islander engines

On the 31st of October, the Philippine Navy opened a bid invitation for the supply and delivery of two units of overhauled Lycoming engines for a Norman-Britten Islander on PhilGEPS. The invitation, with an Authorized Budget for Contract (ABC) of P8M, will close on the 16th of November 2012.

Islanders are the fixed-wing workhorses of the PN Naval Aviation Group (NAG), which use them as its principal liaison and maritime patrol aircraft. Over the years, the NAG Islander fleet has gone through periodic refurbishment to extend their lives. The following video shows an Islander on a test flight after having undergone depot-level maintenance with Hawker Pacific in 2008.

Status of the Pag-asa Elementary School

As of writing, the Pag-asa Elementary School is not yet under the administration of the Department of Education. Reportedly the DepEd is only providing technical assistance at this point, because the Municipal government of Kalayaan is still working to fulfill the following requirements:

1. Formal turnover of a one hectare plot of land for the school. A requirement that is complicated by the absence of land titles on the island.

2. Financial commitment to provide for the salaries of the teaching staff of the school for the next five years. As of the moment, the school has one teacher. The plan is reportedly to eventually have a two-teacher staff, with one teaching assistant.

As part of the school’s expansion plan, a two-storey building is being planned for the next school year. Funds for the new structure were reportedly promised by Cong. Antonio Tinio. Details of this commitment are unclear at this time.

There are currently 24 children that call Pag-asa, Kalayaan (Philippines) home. Fourteen are from fishing families, while the other 10 are children of municipal workers. Children of the latter go to school in Palawan. Of the remaining 14, 8 are currently in the Pag-asa Elementary School. Five are still too young to go to school and are candidates for the next school year. One remains un-enrolled.

#pagasaKIG

DBM reveals 12.5% increase in defense budget

According to the Department of Budget and Management, President Benigno S. Aquino III submitted to Congress the proposed P2.006-trillion 2013 National Budget, which proposed a 12.5% increase in the Philippine defense budget. Budgets for the top eight departments appear below. The DND is ranked third after the Departments of Education and Public Works.

Congressional action on the proposal is required for its implementation.

Countdown to July 31, 2012

Secretary of National Defense, Voltaire Gazmin, announced the following during the 65th Anniversary of the Philippine Air Force

I am happy to let you know that thru our Defense System of Management, the upgrade and modernization program for our armed forces is presently in full swing. This limited only by the maximum amount of financial resources that our government can afford to allocate.

Your defense department is now working speedily on the approval of the contracts for the 138 upgrade and modernization projects of our armed forces, to be implemented over the next five years.

The deadline that we have set for ourselves for the approval of all these contracts is on July 31, 2012.

This month promises to be a significant milestone in the AFP modernization program.

Farewell to the Government Arsenal SAW-9

The Special Actions Weapon (SAW) 9 sub-machine gun was a joint research project between the Government Arsenal and Safariland Firearms Manufacturing Corp. Little is known about this weapon’s origins, but its alternative name — the “Efficient Reliable Assault Pistol (ERAP)” — suggests inception during the term of President Estrada.

It first appeared on the Timawa.net forum on October 14, 2004 by way of an ABS-CBN article that described the weapon as:

“. . . uses the close-bolt concept of the Heckler and Koch MP5 for accuracy; the barrel arrangement of the UZI for versatility; and the upper and lower receivers of the M-16 for ease in mass production. It fires the 5.56 mm round, that is also used by M-16s.”

The forum went through an almost four-year information drought before reports of the weapon’s failings came to light. Details found here. Issues with poor manufacturing quality, relatively small magazine capacity and an excessively high-rate of fire were exacerbated by a high price-point. Reportedly the only buyers of the weapon were the Mandaue SWAT and a number of private individuals. The AFP never adopted the weapon.

In June 2012, the director of the Government Arsenal revealed that the project had been abandoned in favor of an alternative rifle that will fire the new “Musang” round, that is designed for both CQB and Night Fighting Weapon System (NFWS) use. This alternative would require fewer modifications to the basic M-16/M-4 format, which the GA was poised to begin producing locally. Details here.

The SAW-9 story had come to an end.

The most important school in the Philippines

The most important school in the Republic of the Philippines has been established on the Kalayaan Island Group: The Palawan Elementary School.

 

The photo above was taken from an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which posted the following caption for it:

PAG-ASA CLASS OF 2012 The Philippine flag flies in the breeze as Kalayaan town Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon (center) poses with the teacher, schoolchildren and their parents at the opening of Pag-asa Elementary School on a disputed West Philippine Sea island on June 15. AP/OFFICE OF KALAYAAN MUNICIPAL MAYOR

To establish the school, local residents added walls to an unused multi-purpose hall to create a classroom, and the municipal government hired a teacher that agreed to re-locate her family to the island. It commenced operations on the 15th of June for the benefit of five kindergarten students. The town mayor,  Eugenio Bito-onon, is reportedly seeking additional funding to expand the school so that it can offer additional courses of instruction.

The school’s importance not only stems from the fact that it ended a 34-year absence of educational options on the island and thus giving local residents an alternative to sending their children to the mainland, but also because of how it elicited the following response from the People’s Republic of China:

China to PHL: Don’t worsen tension by setting up school on disputed island

Such statements are a normal facet of territorial disputes. Whenever one side of the issue makes a move, the other must file a protest to avoid appearing to accept the move. The proper Philippine response to this countermove, therefore, is to ensure the school’s survival. Otherwise . . . we could be misconstrued as having submitted to their demand.

Never in the history of human conflict has so much of an independent nation’s honor rested on the shoulders of a teacher and her students. It is in the Filipino people’s collective interest that this school succeed.