Philippines: Preparing For The Worst


July 28, 2021: The air force is scrambling to recover from the July 4 th C-130 crash landing down south. The aircraft was a total loss and 54 of the 96 people on board died. The C-130s have been a crucial factor in the campaign against the remaining Islamic terrorists in the south. The destroyed C-130 had only been in service for about six months. The air force received this second-hand, but recently refurbished C-130 from the United States earlier this year and it was checked out for airworthiness by Filipino aviation authorities before entering service. This C-130 was a gift (military aid) and valued at about $25 million.

The Philippines has used its C-130s heavily because for over a decade they have been a major factor in sustaining military operations in the south where it is often essential to rush reinforcements to the south, where the army has been dealing with Moslem separatists and Islamic terrorists for over a decade. The separatists are no longer a major problem and all that remains are Islamic terrorists who sustain themselves with income from kidnapping locals and the occasional foreigner. The air force and navy see the C-130s playing a crucial role in countering future Chinese aggression.

Half the people on the lost July 4th C-130 were new soldiers who had finished their basic training and being sent to units operating in the south to replace soldiers who had retired or did not re-enlist. The combat losses down south have been very low in the last few years and the C-130 crash more than doubled the number of military combat deaths in the last year.

Back in 2008 the air force suffered another C-130 crash that left it with only one C-130 and two twin-engine transports. The air force rebuilt its C-130 force slowly by obtaining refurbished aircraft. For example, in 2016 the air force received two former U.S. Navy C-130T transports for $31 million each. This included refurbishment plus two spare engines and other spares and maintenance gear. This gave the Philippines five C-130s, although one of them was undergoing refurbishment and all five were quite elderly. The air force often has to retire a C-130 because of old age. The oldest C-130s last over 25,000 flight hours and up to 40 years of service with an assist from several refurbishments. The U.S. donates or sells at bargain prices older C-130s that still have a decade or two of useful life left in them. These older aircraft sell for about a quarter of what a new one would cost and many air forces prefer second-hand C-130s. The U.S. is the largest user of the C-130, a 1950s design that is the most widely used four-engine military transport in the world. Currently the U.S. military plans to sell off nearly fifty older C-130s to make way for newer models as well as reduce the size of the C-130 fleet.

The Filipino air force got money for more C-130s out of the tiny military budget by pointing out that in the past, when there was a crisis in the south requiring troops and supplies to be sent quickly, the air force had to charter civilian transports to fill in for missing C-130. Charters are a lot more expensive than using air force transports. The Philippines is a large place, consisting of over 7,600 islands over an area of 300,000 square kilometers (116,000 square miles) with over 36,000 kilometers of coastline to patrol and protect.

Islamic terrorist and Moslem separatist violence in the south has declined continually over the last decade, in part because of the 2014 vote by the majority of Moslems and Christians in the Philippines to establish 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) has more autonomy, but makes the Moslems down there responsible for 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 official attitudes about who has the right to make war in Bangasamoro.

Bangasamoro governs the four million Moslems in Mindanao and even more Christian neighbors of those Moslems. Filipino Moslems are outnumbered by Christians who had moved south during the last half century. Nationwide there are about 12 million Moslems and over 95 million Christians. The Christian Filipinos are better organized, more industrious and more economically successful. The Moslems believe they should run Mindanao even if they are the minority, because Mindanao is the local "Islamic homeland." While some in the government are willing to concede this, the Christian majority in Mindanao (and the rest of the Philippines) does not. Because of these groups like BIFF, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and Abu Sayyaf are treated as outlaws in Bangasamoro and have lost support and members since 2014, but are still active.

A more ominous security threat comes from China, which has been claiming ownership of a lot of the South China Sea that is legally under the control of the Philippines. The Philippines has played nice with China for over a decade while also upgrading its naval and air forces. The Filipino rearmament program has been aided by American, Japanese and Australian donations of warships and aircraft as well as offers of low-cost military equipment. Because of that the Philippines now has enough warships and twin and single patrol aircraft to maintain constant patrols of disputed areas. China responds with larger, often hundreds at a time, unarmed ships as well as a growing number of armed ships and aircraft. China has not opened fire yet, because to do so would admit defeat. If someone else fires on Chinese vessels in the South China Sea that is another matter. That has already happened to Chinese fishing boats caught poaching outside the South China Sea but the Chinese keep at their poaching, using new techniques to avoid detection. China refuses to control its outlaw poaching trawlers and the Philippines has come to accept that they have to prepare for the worst from China.

July 25, 2021: China complained that the American TV network (NBC) that had bought the U.S. broadcasting rights to the current Olympic Games was not showing a map of China that included Taiwan and the South China Sea as Chinese territory. Taiwan has been independent of China for over 70 years and the Philippines calls large portions of the South China Sea that they have a legal claim to the West Philippine Sea.

July 18, 2021: In the south (Maguindanao province) soldiers patrolling a rural area looking for some local ISIL affiliated Islamic terrorists found three of them and after a brief struggle killed one and captured the two others. These three belonged to DITG (Dawlah Islamiyah Torayfie Group) that has been trying to survive in this area since 2017. DITG has few personnel left and the DITG man killed today was identified as one of their few remaining bomb builders. There have been a few DITG bombings since 2019, usually against military convoys or camps. The army believes there are about a dozen DITG members who have survived four years of constant army patrols and civilians who phone in tips. DITG has been trying to regroup, rebuild and move forward with more devastating attacks. Their attacks since 2019 caused little damage and few casualties. DITG was never officially acknowledged by ISIL and is composed of the survivors of the Maute Group, that was largely wiped out in 2017 when they tried to take over the southern city of Marawi. That failed in a spectacular fashion, which is one reason ISIL does not want to be associated with this group.

Another Islamic terrorist group active in this area is BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) There are a few dozen BIFF members left and most are veterans, which explains how they eventually have soldiers looking for them. Because of their small numbers, BIFF has not been able to carry out any attacks lately. A month ago, soldiers found an abandoned BIFF base-camp that was built to accommodate up to a hundred members.

July 15, 2021: In the south (Basilan province) police commandos with arrest warrants surrounded a suspected Abu Sayyaf safe house. Before they could try to enter, the five Abu Sayyaf members present opened fire and four were killed with the fifth captured during a brief gun battle. The five were all known Abu Sayyaf members and guilty of murders, kidnapping and extortion.

July 9, 2021: In the north (Manila) police arrested two Abu Sayyaf members who were brothers and had been hiding out, and inactive, for a year in a suburban community. The two men were wanted for several murders in the south.

In the south (Sulu province) soldiers raided a recently discovered (via a tip) Abu Sayyaf camp and found at least twenty people. There was a brief gun battle as the Islamic terrorists fled but one was killed and several others wounded who managed to flee. The hastily abandoned camp contained some equipment but no weapons or ammo. So far this year operations in the south have put 126 Abu Sayyaf out of action with 19 killed, 88 surrendered and 19 arrested.

July 4, 2021: in the south ( Negros Oriental province) soldiers, acting on a tip, confronted at least five armed NPA rebels in what was apparently one of their hideouts. In a brief gun battle troops killed one of them while the others fled. Soldiers seized three pistols (two .357 Magnum revolvers and one .45 pistol) favored by assassins, ammo and other equipment. The dead man turned out to be a wanted NPA assassin responsible for at least six murders. He was one of the primary gunmen for a 2019 NPA effort to use death squads to intimidate local officials to cooperate or else. Most officials refused the offer and dozens were killed or wounded by the NPA gunmen that attacked the homes of politicians, tried, and often succeeded in killing the officials and then yelling “long live the NPA” as they left. The 2019 intimidation effort continued into 2020 and failed because of the local resistance and travel restrictions imposed because of covid19. This desperate tactic was deemed necessary because the NPA has been suffering a massive decline in popular and communist party support. Increasingly most NPA units depended on extortion, theft and other criminal activity to survive. This was causing much anger and protest in areas where the NPA still operates “for the good of the people.” Yet the NPA can no longer do much political work when their very survival is at risk.

The government is trying, without much success, to negotiate a peace deal with the NPA. The leadership, as well as the commanders of various armed factions, are split on which peace terms are acceptable and most are continuing to operate (fighting and stealing). The NPA, to most Filipinos, have become bandits with a veneer of communist ideology to justify their crimes. The banditry option is not working well enough to assure long-term survival. This can also be seen when factions run short of money. Those actions begin to suffer from desertions. The army will grant amnesty to NPA members who surrender, especially if they bring their weapons and some useful information with them. Information on the location of NPA camps or weapons storage sites is considered useful and the fact that more NPA camps are being attacked and weapons storage sites seized indicates that the NPA is losing secrets as well as people and popular support. Some NPA leaders feel this is all a temporary setback and that a peace deal would enable a revitalized Philippines Communist Party to become a major political power. These delusions make negotiating a peace deal more difficult. Meanwhile the NPA has maintained its status as a major source of criminal (as opposed to Islamic terrorist) activity in the country. Most of the NPA senior leadership live in Europe and are considered somewhat out of touch with the reality of what the NPA has become in the Philippines.

Elsewhere in the south (Sulu province) one of the four air force C-130 transports overshot the runway and crash landed at a nearby village. Three villagers were killed as were 52 of the 96 people on the C-130.




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