Philippines: Not Good Enough


January 4, 2011: Despite doing a lot of damage to the communist NPA last year, the organization has proved more resilient than expected. The NPA is believed to still have 4,100 active gunmen, a decline of only 12 percent from 2009. The government admits that their plan to wipe out the NPA in a few years is not going to work. The government admits that the source of NPA strength is widespread poverty, and the pervasive government corruption that stifles economic growth. Once more, the government pledges to crush corruption and ease poverty. But the corrupt are a large and powerful class, who have enormous resources with which to defend themselves. Victory is very much in doubt, especially with the NPA turning into a criminal gang with social aspirations. The NPA has threatened to increase its extortion operations against large scale rural mining and agricultural facilities.  Recent NPA agreement to undertake peace talks is seen as a propaganda move, not a real desire for peace. The NPA leadership operates from comfortable exile in Europe, and are a bit out-of-touch with what is happening on the ground.

In the south, the MILF has been quiet and more willing to negotiate. But the endemic violence of the largely Moslem south makes it difficult for any organization to guarantee peace. Case in point is the Islamic radical group Abu Sayyaf, which the government now believes is down to about 300 active members (a 13 percent decline versus a year ago.) Several thousand police and troops have been chasing down Abu Sayyaf for years, with only a little success each year.  In response, the army is changing tactics and, in conjunction with new government economic growth and anti-corruption programs, putting more emphasis on local welfare. In the past, going after leftist and Islamic rebels was seen as a purely military operations. Now, the social aspect will also be addressed. The big obstacle here is not the armed enemy, but the corrupt bureaucrats (in and out of uniform.)

But there is some grounds for optimism, because when there is more prosperity, there is less rebel activity, and more rebels accepting amnesty. But these pockets of prosperity have been rare, and the social structure of the Philippines does not encourage spreading the wealth.

December 28, 2010:  The government fired the police commander of Sulu province, for failing to prevent a Christmas Day church bombing on Jolo.

December 25, 2010: A bomb went off on the roof of a church on Jolo island in the south, during Christmas mass. Eight people were wounded. Abu Sayyaf took responsibility, and the police made arrests within a few days.



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