July 7, 2010:
In the south, the Ampatuan family lost the recent elections in Maguindanao province. Esmael Mangudadatu, the head of a rival clan won, largely because of a massacre of his kin, followers and journalists by Ampatuan gunmen last November 23rd. Although Ampatuan clan leaders moved their families out of the province, fearful of Maguindanao supporters seeking vengeance, witnesses to the November 23rd attack are being attacked and threatened. Efforts to prosecute Ampatuans for the killings have been moving slowly. The newly elected Maguindanao governor lost his wife and two sisters in the massacre (that killed 54 other people as well), and finds himself facing dozens of armed civilian groups, with several thousand armed men. Such private militias are common in the south. Despite aggressive efforts, in the last eight months, to disarm those supporting the Ampatuan clan, many other militias remain, not all of them friendly to the new provincial government. President Aquino promised to speed up the prosecution, and better protect key witnesses (one of whom was murdered last month).
June 30, 2010: Benigno Aquino III was sworn in as the Philippines fifteenth president. His mother (Cory Aquino) served as president from 1986 to 1992. For the last twelve years, Benigno served in the national legislature. The new president leads a coalition that wants to revive the economy, balance the budget, sharply cut corruption and double defense spending to two percent of GDP. The endemic corruption has long been recognized as a primary impediment to economic growth, and in the last decade, there has been some success in reducing the corruption. But the new president is expected to make a big dent in this illegal behavior. That is going to stir up a lot of resistance from powerful groups. Meanwhile, the new president has to deal with two ongoing armed rebellions (by Moslem separatists in the south and communists seeking to establish a socialist dictatorship). Then there are the few hundred Islamic terrorists (Abu Sayyaf) in the southwest. This group has been trying to launch attacks throughout the country, without much success, but succeeding in making a lot of Filipinos anxious.
In the south, some fifty NPA gunmen attacked a rural army base, wounding two soldiers and a civilian. Soldiers took off after the retreating communist rebels.
In the north, ten NPA gunmen ambushed a van and killed two policemen.
Several years ago, the government set today as the target date for the end of the NPA. Didn't happen. The NPA is weaker, but it's still out there. Part of the problem is that the NPA still receives a lot of support by leftist groups in the Philippines and overseas. This support used to be a lot stronger, but then, after September 11, 2001, the NPA got declared an international terrorist group, and financial support, especially from outside the country, dried up. The NPA had to recast itself as revolutionary gangsters. Without a source of income, keeping thousands of armed fighters in action was impossible. While pay was low, there were operating expenses. Even rebels have to deal with budgets and cash flow. Like many rebel groups before them, the NPA is mutating into gangsters, and the government has to adjust its tactics to deal with the evolving threat.
June 27, 2010: In the south, troops overran an NPA camp, killing two rebels. Most of the camp occupants had fled at the approach of the troops, but much equipment was captured.
June 25, 2010: On Basilan, thirty Abu Sayyaf terrorists ambushed a bus and killed four people. The motive was apparently robbery. Abu Sayyaf has been pursued by troops for several years now, and are always short on funds.
June 23, 2010: A soldier was killed by an NPA death squad some 80 kilometers south of the capital.