January 4, 2013: The government is scrambling to find the money to buy new military equipment, especially aircraft and ships, to better deal with growing Chinese presence offshore waters (which China claims to control and will, if the Philippines cannot put some ships and aircraft out there). Last year China declared most of the South China Sea as part of China and set up administrative facilities on one of the disputed small islands (that cannot otherwise support a population). China recently announced that it will spend $1.6 billion on building economic or security facilities on these disputed bits of land. China is also backing up its claims by stationing larger warships (frigates and destroyers, with helicopters on board) in the disputed waters. Chinese tactics involve moving in quietly (with warships or facilities built on reefs or uninhabited rocks) and then leaving nearby claimants the option of attacking (and being beaten by more powerful Chinese forced into “defending themselves”) or just backing off. The Philippines is seeking help from the United States if it comes to removing Chinese from waters that are generally recognized as Filipino.
January 2, 2013: The NPA cancelled their holiday truce, which was supposed to continue until the 15th. It was a unilateral truce and the communist rebels are angry that the military did not reciprocate and halt operations against them. The army says they had to respond to the recent kidnapping of two militiamen and three civilians in the south.
December 30, 2012: In the south seven people were wounded when a bomb went off in a bus. The bomb was planted by an extortion gang formed by renegade MILF members. Threatening violence to get extortion payments from businesses is popular with rebels and gangsters in the south. Whenever a bomb goes off, the first thing the police have to determine is whether it’s about extortion (usually) or Islamic terrorism (rarely). The government sees MILF men going rogue with increasing frequency and pressures the MILF leadership for not doing more to deal with their wayward members.
December 27, 2012: The navy revealed that it will be buying three Italian AW109 helicopters, as part of a drive to modernize the decrepit (or missing) equipment found throughout the military. The army announced it had ordered 72 trucks from Korea (60 of them small vehicles fitted out as ambulances and the other heavy models for hauling cargo or troops).
December 26, 2012: A two minute Abu Sayyaf video appeared on the Internet, proving that an Australian man, kidnapped in December 2011, was still alive. He is believed to be held on Basilan Island. Last March troops captured an Abu Sayyaf camp on Basilan and found evidence that the Australian man had been held there. Abu Sayyaf is demanding $2 million but the Australian forbids such ransom, as it only encourages the terrorists and provides them with cash to grow and make more attacks. The Philippines and Australia are working together to find the captive (a former soldier) and have warned foreigners in general to avoid the southern Philippines because of the kidnapping threat.
In the south (Negros Oriental) police arrested a wanted (for a $128,000 reward) NPA leader (Filemon Mendrez).
December 23, 2012: The Philippines has become the first country in Asia to outlaw kidnapping (often in secret) of suspects by the military and police. The security forces consider this practice essential to deal with subversive organizations like Islamic radicals or leftist rebels. But the practice was often abused and the victims were sometimes secretly murdered (“disappeared”). The kidnappings will probably continue but the soldiers or police involved risk prosecution if caught (and a life sentence if convicted).