August 19, 2015:
The government is planning to increase the defense budget 25 percent next year, to $552 million. This is part of a larger plan to triple defense spending over the next five years and eventually spend over $20 billion on new weapons and equipment. This is in response to the growing threat from China. Despite that some of the increase must go to maintaining and upgrading equipment used to deal with internal problems like Islamic terrorists, Moslem separatists and leftist rebels. These big spending plans are unrealistic because the crippled (mainly by corruption) Filipino economy cannot generate that kind of money just for defense. In reality the spending increase, for an already small defense budget, is dependent on the generosity of allies, especially the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan all of whom have donated ships and other equipment. Cash is also donated but not in the quantities the Philippines want. No one wants to say it openly, but the corruption in the Philippines makes even allies reluctant to donate money. Meanwhile the foreign aid is a deliberate and successful effort to assist the Philippines in upgrading and expanding its navy despite local poverty and corruption. The Philippines also plans to buy some submarines from South Korea or Japan and is getting three powerful coastal surveillance radars from the United States. Additional ships and helicopters are helping the navy patrol offshore waters and quickly respond to Chinese incursions but this does not change the fact that China can muster far more forces (ships and aircraft) than the Philippines and that will not change much with all the budget increases and generous allies.
Meanwhile China takes that the position that their claims are justified and unassailable. Because of that China accuses its angry neighbors of stirring up trouble and demands that the United States halt its military threats against Chinese territory (the South China Sea). This is an ancient Chinese strategy, used successfully many times over the last few thousand years. But it does not always work and when it fails it often has serious negative repercussions on the Chinese rulers responsible. The China government plays down that angle, at least in China where the government controls most mass media.
Peace talks with the leftist NPA rebels continue to be stalled over NPA demands that thirty of their imprisoned leaders be freed first. The government refuses and the result has been a sharp increase in NPA violence as the leftist rebels seek to coerce the government. This is not working and the military quietly welcomes the NPA being more active as this gives the troops more opportunities to remind the leftists that the security forces tend to win most clashes. So now the NPA leadership has a growing morale problem because of the heavier losses in personnel and cash (as all this combat activity disrupts the collection of “revolutionary taxes.) Since the start of 2015 year army intelligence believes the NPAs armed strength has been reduced over 12 percent (to under 2,800) and the current NPA offensive is accelerating those losses.
Islamic terrorists Abu Sayyaf have lost about 20 percent of the 400 armed members it had in January and is seen as a bigger problem than the NPA because these Islamic terrorists continue to provide sanctuary for foreign Islamic terrorists from Malaysia and Indonesia. Some of these foreigners have special skills, like bomb making, which makes them, and Abu Sayyaf, even more dangerous. MILF has made peace and the disarmament process has begun. MILF leaders are complaining that they should get more generous terms but that was expected and is ignored by the government.
August 18, 2015: In the south (Bukidnon province) a clash with the NPA left five of the communist rebels dead. The special operations troops involved were looking for a soldier who had recently been captured by the leftist rebels. Elsewhere in the south (Zamboanga City) two para-military policemen and a marine were killed when a gun battle broke out between a joint police/marine patrol and two para-military policemen who opened fire first. It’s unclear yet what the cause was but it may have involved alcohol, police corruption or both. The local police down south are among the most corrupt in the country and are increasingly getting caught by military personnel down there to deal with Islamic terrorism.
August 17, 2015: In the south (Basilan) four members of Abu Sayyaf escaped from jail by using a smuggled in hacksaw. Corruption is much more of a factor in the south and important prisoners are often sent to facilities in the north where prison staff are much more difficult to intimidate (by threatening them or family) or bribe. The four Islamic terrorists who escaped were jailed for common crimes (murder, drugs, theft) as many members of Abu Sayyaf are basically gangsters using religion as a cover for their criminal activities.
August 15, 2015: In the north (Bicol peninsula), troops cornered and captured two NPA men in an abandoned house after locals called in a tip. The two NPA members were travelling and thought it was safe to rest in the empty building but they were seen by someone with a cell phone. The cell phone is a growing threat to gangsters and unpopular rebels worldwide as cell phone systems are a lot cheaper to install and many poor rural areas worldwide are getting phone service for the first time because of the cell phone tech.
August 14, 2015: In the south (Sulu province) three civilians were wounded in the crossfire when Abu Sayyaf ambushed an army patrol. There were no other casualties. The troops were part of a larger search operation to find the Abu Sayyaf men responsible for recently beheading a village chief they had kidnapped.
August 12, 2015: In the south (Mindanao) troops encountered a group of NPA rebels who were in the midst of extorting cash and food from local civilians. This “collecting revolutionary taxes” is a regular occurrence in areas where NPA is active. This sort of thing is very unpopular with the locals and the security forces often get enough tips about it to figure out the NPA collection schedule and catch the leftist extortionists in the act. That’s what happened this time and after a 30 minute gun battle the NPA men fled leaving one of their dead behind (along with his assault rifle). The NPA apparently suffered other casualties but managed to take them along as the group fled.
August 11, 2015: In the south (Sulu province) troops found the headless body of a village chief the Islamic terrorists had kidnapped in May. Abu Sayyaf had a demanded a ransom for the village chief as well as coast guard men taken in the same incident. The government will not pay ransom and it is not known if the two coast guard men are still alive. The search was intensified after the body was found. Elsewhere in Sulu Abu Sayyaf clashed with another army patrol, leaving one Islamic terrorist dead and troops continuing the pursuit.
August 9, 2015: In the south (Sulu province) Abu Sayyaf ambushed an army patrol, killing two soldiers.
August 8, 2015: In the north (Bicol peninsula) four soldiers were wounded by an NPA roadside bomb. Other members of the patrol quickly responded and forced the leftist rebels to flee after a 30 minute firefight.
August 7, 2015: In the south (Bukidnon province) the army got tips from civilians indicating a major NPA operation against an “uncooperative” village. Soldiers sent to intercept the NPA force did so and in the resulting gun battle one soldier was killed before the leftist rebels decided to retreat (taking any dead and wounded with them).
August 6, 2015: Taiwan and the Philippines are working out details for a joint patrol system, especially in some disputed areas and for greater cooperation during emergencies at sea. All this may have been promoted by a June announcement by the Chinese Navy that it will begin carrying out training exercises in the waters (Bashi Channel) between Taiwan and Philippines. This would bring Chinese warships close to Taiwanese coastal waters on a regular basis, something that makes many Taiwanese uneasy.
August 4, 2015: In the south (South Cotabato province) an NPA raid on a banana plantation left a security guard dead and four soldiers wounded. The NPA was forced to retreat and in the process suffered a major financial loss since the raid was retaliation for the plantation owners’ refusal to pay “revolutionary taxes” to protect the plantation from attack (by the leftist rebels). In the north (Bicol peninsula) an NPA ambush backfired and while one soldier was killed during the 15 minute gun battle, four leftist rebels were killed and even more wounded. The surviving NPA men managed to flee.
August 1, 2015: In the central Philippines (Panay Island) police captured a senior NPA leader. The arrested woman had a $168,000 government reward for her death or capture. She was the senior female NPA official.
July 28, 2015: In the south (Compostela Valley province) an NPA rebel was killed when the bomb he was transporting went off unexpectedly (either because poor construction or mishandling).
July 27, 2015: In the north (Kalinga province) NPA rebels ambushed an army patrol with a roadside bomb and gunfire, killing three soldiers and wounding thirteen.