Philippines: The Tribes Are Revolting


September 18, 2011: Negotiations with MILF (Moro Islamic Freedom Front) are stalled over the inability of the MILF leadership to control its own followers. Meanwhile, the Moslem population they claim to represent has largely lost enthusiasm for the separatist struggle. The fact is that the Moslems are a small minority (8 percent) of the Filipino population and that is why few Moslems want to keep fighting for a separate Moslem state on part of Mindanao island (the southernmost large island). The problem is, Moslems are only about a third of the 22 million people on Mindanao and the smaller southern islands. The rest are Christians, who do not want to share the island with an independent Moslem state. Moreover, most of the Moslem population is intermixed with Christians, and the radical Moslems want these Christians expelled. But the radical Moslems are not strong enough to force the majority Christians out. Many Moslem majority areas have become largely Christian in the past decade. The Christian majority has been encroaching, on the sparsely populated areas of the Moslem south, for over a century. But this movement has accelerated as the economy has improved in the last decade. Many Moslems see their culture threatened, but armed resistance has not done much to help. The Moslems are very outnumbered, and have been losing battles for decades. Radical Islam has not been able to halt this process, and fewer and fewer young Moslems are willing to die for that cause. But many young Moslems are willing to become bandits and outlaws, and that is what most of the hostiles down south are turning into.

The region has always been corrupt and ruled by heavily armed and short tempered clans. This has more to do with local tribal culture than religion. The south has always been the "wild west" and there are new battles and dead bodies every month to serve as a reminder. Investigations of these incidents are dangerous, because there is the risk that dark secrets will be revealed, causing desperate, and dangerous men to be cornered. At that point, you realize that Islamic radicalism is not the biggest danger in the south. The reasons for this are cultural and historical.

The many Malay tribes of the Philippines developed differently over the past five hundred years. Those in the south encountered Moslem traders and missionaries from Indonesia, and became Moslem, while those in the north encountered Spanish conquerors and missionaries and became Christian. For reasons more cultural than religious, the tribes in the south retained a strong clan structure, and a preference for settling clan disputes with violence. A recent study found that, over the last 70 years, there have been, on average, about two such feuds a year, leaving a dozen or so people dead, and often causing hundreds, and sometimes thousands, to flee their homes. The violence has become more deadly in the last few decades, as automatic weapons became more common. The current problem, in getting the MILF to finalize a peace deal, stem from rogue MILF factions, and disputes based on clan affiliation. While religion is the main glue holding the MILF together, clan politics still stirs the pot.

Any peace plan has to deal with southern politics, which is all about clan politics. Even MILF is held together because of support from some key clans. The government peace plan proposes to disarm the clan militias. That will change the balance of power in the south, as some the MILF militias will remain armed, and ready to take advantage of pro-government militias that once kept them in check, but are to be disarmed. Overall, however, the southern provinces would be better off with warlords and their clan based militias gone. These forces often engage in criminal behavior to sustain themselves, and clan leaders use their gunmen to coerce voters and maintain political power. But for the moment, no one can claim enough support in the south to represent the Moslem minority in the peace negotiations.

MILF must put its own house in order before it can claim to represent anything. To that end, MILF has ordered the rogue BILF ( Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Front) to surrender by the 26th, or else. BILF said it would keep fighting. While MILF has about 12,000 armed men, BILF only has, at most, a thousand. There are several other rogue factions that, if they allied themselves with BILF, would double the number. But rogue factions are not inclined to join forces with anyone, so MILF can pick them off one at a time. While a bloody process, that is what the government is demanding before peace talks can resume.

The government has announced a sharp increase in tax investigations and prosecutions of wealthy individuals caught evading large tax bills. This is part of the government anti-corruption program. Less successful is the effort to nail officials taking bribes. But there have been more arrests, and increased efforts to get people to inform on corruption they have witnessed. At lot of corruption is witnessed, but in the past, those who stepped forward and testified have not fared well. The government promises it is different now, but not a lot of potential witnesses are convinced.

September 17, 2011: In the south, MILF and BILF gunmen clashed in Maguindanao. There were no casualties.

Police reported that they had information indicating that Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert Basit Usman and a team of Islamic terrorists had trained at least twenty men on how to make and plant bombs, and that these men had been ordered to attack government and Christian targets (especially churches) in the south. Many members of the Indonesian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) had fled to the Philippines in the last six years, and had once been under the protection of MILF. But that didn’t last long, as the al Qaeda affiliated JI began staging terror attacks throughout the Philippines.  Basit Usman is one of the few remaining JI members at large in the Philippines, and is protected, in part, by MILF radicals.

In the last two days, several clashes with the NPA have left two rebels dead and four soldiers and rebels wounded.

September 16, 2011:  A bomb went off in the south, but there were no injuries. Another was discovered nearby and disabled.

September 15, 2011: In Central Philippines (Camarines Norte) four soldiers were wounded when a patrol encountered 30 NPA rebels.

September 14, 2011: In the south, four died when MILF gunmen fought rogue BILF fighters. MILF accused BILF of attacking a MILF patrol that was passing through a village.

September 13, 2011: In the south, an NPA man was killed as a group of rebels was repulsed after they attacked a police station.

September 11, 2011: On Basilan, three Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorists were killed during a battle with troops.

September 9, 2011:  In the south, police arrested a wanted member of Abu Sayyaf.

September 8, 2011: The government and MILF agreed to resume peace negotiations next month. The talks are being held in Norway.

September 6, 2011: The government and the communist NPA agreed to swap 13 NPA prisoners for four men the rebels had kidnapped last year. This is being done to move forward peace talks with the NPA.




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