American and Filipino negotiators have agreed on the details of the new defense treaty. This will be signed by the end of the month and will allow regular visits by American forces and the delivery of more military aid (hardware and training.) While the new deal does not establish any American bases in the Philippines it does allow for American ships, aircraft and troops to operate on a long-term basis from existing Filipino military bases. This provides the Philippines with a lot more military muscle to confront an increasingly aggressive China. The U.S. has been recently been more active in describing how far it would go in resisting Chinese attempts to take control of the South China Sea. The U.S. recently pointed out that the sanctions being used against Russia could also be used against China. A trade war with the United States is the last thing the Chinese government wants right now, because they are having lots of problems with their economy. But the Chinese have used the South China Sea claims as part of a propaganda campaign to distract Chinese from the looming economic crises at home and backing off is not really a good option either.
MILF admitted that four of the men killed while fighting alongside Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorists last week were MILF members. MILF insisted these men had broken MILF rules by working with Abu Sayyaf. MILF has long been accused of tolerating such cooperation, which is usually done because some Abu Sayyaf groups earn a lot of money via smuggling, kidnapping and extortion. The government is again pressing MILF to be more active in disciplining its members who are criminals on the side. The government also wants more active MILF efforts to shut down MILF dissident groups like BIFF and MNLF, which are still operating like bandits in the south, often in cooperation with nearby MILF members. The newly signed peace treaty leaves MILF in charge of security in the southwest next year and the government is not sure MILF will be able to handle it.
Several days of heavy fighting in the south (Basilan, Jolo and Zamboanga City) failed to achieve the primary objective, which was the capture of two terrorist leaders (Puruji Indama and Isnilon Hapilon) wanted for organizing several bombings and kidnappings. Abu Sayyaf is mainly operating in the new Moslem autonomous area and has resisted years of efforts by thousands of soldiers and marines to shut down the Islamic terrorist group.
April 14, 2014: In the south (Zamboanga City) police raided a building used by Abu Sayyaf. The resulting gun battle left two Islamic terrorists dead and three captured while one policeman was wounded. Later in the day another raid in the area led to the arrest of three more Abu Sayyaf men. Elsewhere in the south (Compostela Valley province) troops clashed with some 30 NPA rebels and wounded some of them while suffering soldiers wounded. The army has been pursuing an NPA group that has been attacking a local mining operation as part of an effort to get the company to pay extortion (for “protection” from NPA violence).
April 13, 2014: In the south (near Zamboanga City) police captured a member of Abu Sayyaf.
April 12, 2014: In the south (Jolo Island) troops clashed with Abu Sayyaf, leaving three of the Islamic terrorists wounded. Elsewhere in the south (Compostela Valley province) 13 NPA rebels surrendered to the army.
April 11, 2014: In the south (Basilan Island) troops attacked an Abu Sayyaf camp. While ten of the thirty Islamic terrorists were killed and six captured the others got away and as the troops pursued two soldiers were killed and over twenty wounded. This Abu Sayyaf group had been harassing a local road building project and demanding $110,000 to leave the workers alone. In addition these Abu Sayyaf had been responsible for several bombings and kidnappings.
April 4, 2014: In the south (Compostela Valley province) NPA rebels kidnapped an army sergeant who came upon a fake checkpoint manned by the leftist rebels in army uniforms. The NPA said it would not release the soldiers until the army stopped protecting commercial logging in Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte and Surigao del Sur provinces. Such logging bans are popular with Western leftists and the NPA is trying to rebuild its donor network in the West by openly backing environmental issues popular with potential donors. Donations from Western leftists declined sharply after the Cold War ended and became even more difficult when the NPA after September 11, 2001 when the NPA was finally declared an international terrorist organization. Some NPA factions believe that if the foreign donor network can be rebuilt the NPA will still have a shot at turning the Philippines into a communist dictatorship.
April 2, 2014: In the south (Tawi-Tawi Islands) Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorists in speedboats crossed the Sulu Sea at night to nearby Malaysia (Sabah) and kidnapped a Singaporean woman and a local scuba diving resort worker. The Islamic terrorists then hustled back to Tawi-Tawi and later demanded a ransom of $11.4 million. The Philippines ordered more troops to Tawi-Tawi to search for the hostages. The last time this sort of thing happened was in 2000, when Abu Sayyaf took 21 people from another Sabah resort. Most of those hostages were released within five months, after the payment of ransoms. Since then security was increased on both sides of the Sulu Sea and foreign tourists began returning to the Malaysian resorts. Small speedboats can make it across the Sulu Sea to Sabah quickly because some of the smaller Tawi-Tawi Islands are less than 20 kilometers from Sabah. Filipino and Malaysian patrol boats monitor this patch of sea but not on a 24/7 basis and at night a couple of small speedboats are easy to miss.
March 31, 2014: China said it will not accept the ruling of any UN arbitrator regarding Chinese claims to the South China Sea. China says these claims are non-negotiable and are being enforced. China insists that its claims are in full compliance with international law. Most of the international community disagrees and China considers this unfair.
March 29, 2014: The Philippines defied a Chinese blockade of Second Thomas Reef and evaded a large Chinese coast guard ship that was literally blocking the approach of Filipino ships. This was all about the continued presence of eight Filipino marines on Second Thomas Reef, which the Chinese insist is Chinese territory. Today’s successful resupply mission leaves the marines well stocked. China says this is an intolerable affront to Chinese sovereignty. This sort of statement is how China warns victims that an attack is coming and the Philippines has asked the United States for some backup here. The U.S. responded by saying it supported peaceful resolution of this dispute. By that the Americans mean they want the Chinese to wait for the recent submission of the dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration. This could result in a legal decision by 2015 but China has indicated that it will not abide by any such ruling. Challenging such a decision exposes China to trade sanctions, which would stall economic growth and create a recession that could cause unrest. Chinese leaders are eager to avoid that. A military assault on the Filipino LST would also create the risk of legal and economic backlash as well as the lesser risk of military escalation. The next step appears to be a tighter blockade of the Filipino garrison to starve them out. Chinese civilian and military ships blocked two earlier efforts by Filipino supply ships to deliver food and water to Second Thomas Reef and stationing more ships there to enforce the blockade might work. The supplies can and have been air dropped. Resupply by air is expensive and uncertain during bad weather. For the last year China has been increasing pressure on the Philippines to remove small detachments of sailors and marines stationed on nine islets and reefs in the Spratly Islands. In particular the Chinese want this detachment, stationed on a World War II era landing ship (the BRP Sierra Madre) removed. The Filipino navy deliberately grounded the LST on Second Thomas Reef in 1999 to provide a place for an observation team. In 2013 Chinese patrol ships came within nine kilometers of the LST, which China insists is there illegally. The Philippines warns China that it will resist any attempts to use force against the grounded ship. The initial response from China was constructing more buildings (on stilts) on nearby Mischief Reef (which is only 126 kilometers from the Philippines’ Palawan Island). Second Thomas Reef and nearby Reed Bank are 148 kilometers west of the Philippines (Palawan Island) and well within the Philippines’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Although the EEZ is recognized by international law (and a treaty that China signed and uses to defend waters off its own coast) China says that does not apply here because all the islets in the South China Sea belong to China and there is no room for negotiation on that point. Most countries in the region (except Japan, which would rather not dwell on this) note that this was how Japan behaved before World War II. Official U.S. policy is to try and get everyone to calm down and be less provocative. American P-3C maritime patrol aircraft regularly fly over the Spratly Islands and photograph Chinese installations and naval activities. This data is shared with the Philippines and perhaps others. China is the biggest offender in the Spratly Island disputes and shows no sign of slowing, or backing, down. Now China is warning the world that it is ready to escalate but is afraid that the world will call their bluff.
March 28, 2014: In the south (Maguindanao province) a local police chief was killed in an ambush by persons unknown.
March 27, 2014: The government and MILF signed the peace deal that creates an autonomous Moslem region on the southwest coast of Mindanao (the large southern island) and the string of smaller islands (Sulu, Basilan, Tawi, Tawi) extending from southwestern Mindanao towards Malaysia. The new Moslem entity (Bangasamoro) will have more autonomy, but makes the Moslems down there responsible to maintaining the peace. This is no small matter because, more than elsewhere in the Philippines, the Moslem south has long had many more clan militias that believed it was their right to engage in private wars. Not all the clans share the MILF’s official attitudes about who shall have the right to make war in Bangasamoro. The peace deal ultimately come apart over the exact extent of the power the Bangasamoro government has. A lot of details were left kind of vague, which worries Christians down there a great deal.