MILF is accusing the army of violating the ceasefire in the south (Maguindanao province) by moving troops around a lot. The army replied that this was in an effort to deal with BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) rebels in the area. BIFF is a radical MILF faction that does not support the MILF peace negotiations. The main Filipino Moslem separatist group (MILF) has been fighting the BIFF since 2011. A 2012 peace deal with BIFF which was supposed to see the dissidents rejoin MILF and stop causing problems with their attacks on Christians in the south. This quickly fell apart and the BIFF violence had been getting worse ever since. BIFF went back to attacking Christians and the security forces and this resulted in heavy losses. BIFF contained about a thousand armed men in early 2013 and is believed to be down to a few hundred gunmen now. Those who do remain are hard core and many are willing to die rather than surrender. BIFF had become increasingly violent and outspoken about how MILF is selling out Moslems. MILF was reluctant to use force to deal with BIFF but now that the peace negotiations have created a Moslem homeland down south BIFF is being denounced as evil, hostile and deserving of a violent crackdown. But many MILF commanders are reluctant to cooperate with the army against BIFF and the army does not trust MILF commanders to keep secrets about operations against BIFF.
BIFF and Abu Sayyaf commanders occupy most of the top positions on the government’s “most wanted” list. The government offers cash rewards for information about any of the Islamic terrorists, rebels and criminals on this list. The government is also warning MILF to crack down on the growing number of its members who are engaged in importing and selling Shabu (slang for illegal methamphetamine pills, often smuggled in from Burma via Thailand). MILF members are going to run the government of the new autonomous state in the south and corruption (like cooperating with the shabu trade) is expected to be a major problem.
Meanwhile the Chinese aggression in the South China Sea has created a widespread belief that war is not only possible but imminent. A recent opinion poll in the region found that over 60 percent of the people in nations bordering the South China Sea feared Chinese aggression and the war it might trigger. A similar percentage of Chinese agreed. China created this mindset, and the world wonders what China is going to do about it. Another interesting trend is that more people in the region, and worldwide, are agreeing that China is now a superpower. More Chinese have that attitude as well.
The U.S. is reducing its counter-terrorism force in the Philippines (currently about 320 personnel) because the Islamic terrorist threat in the Philippines has been greatly reduced since the U.S. began assisting the Philippines in this area after September 11, 2001. These days the Philippines is more interested in getting naval, air and diplomatic support from the U.S. against China.
July 28, 2014: In the south (Sulu) several dozen Abu Sayyaf gunmen ambushed two vans carrying over 40 civilians and killed 21 of them (including women and six children). The civilians were on their way to festival celebrating the end of Ramadan. The Islamic terrorist group was feuding with the village the victims came from. This was believed to involve a clan feud as well, plus the village had a defense militia that caused the Islamic terrorists problems. In the south, these feuds tend to get brutal with lots of dead women and children.
July 24, 2014: In the south (Basilan) troops found and attacked an Abu Sayyaf hideout. Three of the Islamic terrorists were killed as well as two local militiamen who were with the troops. The three dead Abu Sayyaf men were later identified as participants in a notorious 2011 kidnapping. Another five Islamic terrorists were wounded.
July 21, 2014: In the south (Maguindanao province) BIFF rebels attacked troops guarding two towns. These attacks failed and 17 of the attackers died along with one soldier (three soldiers were wounded plus many more of the attackers.)
July 17, 2014: In the south (Sulu) Abu Sayyaf kidnapped four government employees who were surveying residents in preparation for a social welfare program. One of the four survey takers soon escaped but the other three are apparently being held for ransom. These ransoms have long been a major source of income for Islamic terrorists in the south.
July 13, 2014: In the south (Lanao del Sur province) a local MILF commander and a soldier were killed when the MILF leader ordered some of his men to attack army troops who moved towards his base. Two soldiers and two MILF men were also wounded. This all turned out to be a misunderstanding. The soldiers were providing security (against local criminals) for a TV crew filming a documentary. The MILF commander apparently did not know that and assumed the troops were there to arrest him (because of a recently issued arrest warrant against him by a provincial court.) The troops alerted their headquarters when the shooting began and the army contacted local MILF authorities and after a few hours it was all sorted out.
July 12, 2014: In the north (Quezon) two soldiers were wounded when their patrol clashed with twenty NPA gunmen. The rebels fled and it appears some were wounded.
For the second time since April Filipino criminals (apparently Abu Sayyaf) crossed the Sulu Sea at night to nearby Malaysia (Sabah) and attacked a vacation resort. This time the gunmen encountered two policemen and in the following gun battle killed one of the police and kidnapped the other. Before this year 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 Filipino 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. Security was increased after the April attack, and tourist business fell ten percent. Although this second attack failed to reach any tourists, it is not good for business and Malaysia is pressing the Philippines to do more to stop this sort of cross border crime.
July 10, 2014: An army investigation concluded that it was friendly fire (misdirected artillery fire) that killed six soldiers and wounded 13 others last June 19th during a clash with Abu Sayyaf on Sulu Island.
July 8, 2014: In the south (Mindanao) an army patrol encountered about 30 NPA rebels and a gun battle ensured before the rebels fled. Six soldiers were wounded along with an undetermined number of the communist rebels.