October 11, 2014:
Some MILF leaders, and army commanders who have served in the Moslem south, are uncertain how the disarmament features of the peace deal will be implemented. Disarmament would have to deal with southern politics, which is all about clan politics. Even MILF is held together because of support from some key clans. The plan calls for disarming the clan militias. That will change the balance of power in the south, as some the MILF militias will remain armed (as part of the security forces), 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. All this is somewhat unique to the south. That’s because the many native (Malay) tribes of the Philippines developed differently since Islam and Christianity arrived over five hundred years ago. 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. Since World War II there have averaged 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. Getting MILF to enforce the disarmament portions of the peace agreement are already running into problems with rogue MILF factions and internal disputes based on clan affiliation. While religion is the main glue holding the MILF together, clan politics still stirs the pot and clans do not want to give up their guns.
The army has sent a hundred special operations troops and a thousand regular soldiers to the south to help in the search for twelve kidnapped people Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf is holding. There is a sense of urgency to this as two of the hostages are German tourists and Abu Sayyaf is demanding a $5.6 million ransom by October 17th as well German government agreement to cease its assistance for anti-ISIL operations in Syria and Iraq. Abu Sayyaf threatens to behead the two Germans if their demands are not met. This could lead to a deadly showdown with Abu Sayyaf.
Military intelligence also believes that a Saudi Arabian Islamic terrorist (Abdurahaman) is running a terrorist training camp somewhere in the rural south (Central Mindanao). There members of Abu Sayyaf and a new Islamic terrorist group (KIM or Kihilafa Islamiya Movement) that have pledged allegiance to ISIL are being taught how to be more destructive Islamic terrorists. Abdurahaman has lived in the Philippines for several years and is believed to be a member of the Indonesian Islamic terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). A photo of Abdurahaman was recently obtained from a cell phone taken from a captured Islamic terrorist. So now the shadowy Abdurahaman is being sought more intently. Not just because it is now known what he looks like but because of reports that those Filipino Islamic groups that have pledged loyalty to ISIL are also seeking volunteers for suicide bombing attacks. These recruiting efforts have been unsuccessful, as they have been in the past. But the fact that the effort is being made is disturbing.
The army complains that the NPA has been more aggressive in its extortion efforts in the south and obtaining more cash from firms seeking to protect their equipment and facilities. The army has not been able to protect all the firms that refuse to pay and many of them are quietly paying, even though that is illegal. The army understands that the companies, especially those doing major construction projects, risk going out of business if they do not deal with the NPA violence one way or another. The additional cash the NPA has been bringing in has allowed the leftist rebels to put more gunmen on the payroll. The NPA is, after all, a business.
October 8, 2014: In the south (North Cotabato province) two members of BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) men fired a grenade into a church killing two Christians and wounding seven others. BIFF is a renegade MILF faction that opposes the peace deal, and the presence of Christians in any area where Moslems also live.
October 5, 2014: On Luzon Island 6,000 American and Filipino marines carried out a joint training exercise. This all took place 220 kilometers from Chinese warships trying to establish undisputed control of Scarborough Shoal. Since 2013 Filipino fishermen have complained that they are being chased away from their traditional fishing areas off the Filipino coast by Chinese coast guard ships near Scarborough Shoal. This is in violation of a 2012 deal made with the Chinese, who were quick to violate the agreement. Not only did Chinese patrol boats soon return to Scarborough Shoal but Chinese fishing boats again began operating there and even erected a flimsy barrier (with rowboats, rope and fishing nets) across the entrance to the lagoon and forcibly prevented Filipino fishing boats from entering. Scarborough Shoal is in waters the Philippines claims in accordance with international law. The shoal is only 250 kilometers from one of the large inhabited Philippine islands (Palawan) and 1,200 kilometers from China. Despite this China claims ownership of Scarborough Shoal but has not yet used deadly force to assert that claim. What China is apparently doing is sending coast guard patrol boats on “fishery protection” missions to “protect Chinese fishermen” and clear the area of unauthorized (non-Chinese) fishing boats. According to China, they are in compliance with the 2012 deal, as they never agreed that Chinese fishing boats could not operate around Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines does not agree but has refrained from sending warships to the shoal and chasing the Chinese fishing boats away. To Filipinos this is another example of China saying one thing and doing another. U.S. Navy officials have said that if China occupied disputed islands in South China Sea the United States would help, as it is obliged to do because of a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. The U.S. refused to say exactly how it would help. The U.S. did point out that it is shifting naval forces from other parts of the world to the Pacific and currently has fifty warships in the Western Pacific and will increase that by 20 percent by the end of the decade.
October 4, 2014: The government revealed that it had quietly halted a planned upgrade to an airfield on Thitu Island. This small piece of land is in the Spratly Islands. China claims all of the Spratly Islands, despite competing claims from the Philippines and other nations. The Philippines is halting the airfield work to enhance its chances of getting a favorable ruling from the UN on its territorial dispute with China. Meanwhile since 2013 China has been increasing pressure on the Philippines to remove small detachments of sailors and marines stationed on nine islets and reefs in the Spratly Islands. The Philippines warns China that it will resist any attempts to use force against these garrisons. In response to that China is constructing more buildings (on stilts) on nearby Mischief Reef (which is only 126 kilometers from the Philippines’ Palawan Island). Second Thomas Reef and nearby Reed Bank are 148 kilometers west of the Philippines (Palawan Island) and well within the Philippines’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Although the EEZ is recognized by international law (and a treaty that China signed and uses to defend waters off its own coast) China says that does not apply here because all the islets in the South China Sea belong to China and there is no room for negotiation on that point. Most countries in the region (except Japan, which would rather not dwell on this) note that this was how Japan behaved before World War II. Official U.S. policy is to try and get everyone to calm down and be less provocative. American P-3C maritime patrol aircraft regularly fly over the Spratly Islands and photograph Chinese installations and naval activities. This data is shared with the Philippines and perhaps others. China is the biggest offender in the Spratly Island disputes and shows no sign of slowing, or backing, down. Now China is warning the world that it is ready to escalate but is afraid that the world will call their bluff.
September 29, 2014: In the north (Quezon) two off-duty soldiers and a woman they were with were killed by NPA gunmen. The army believes this is the start of an NPA offensive in the area.
September 25, 2014: In the south (Zamboanga City) police arrested two men they caught trying to transport 2,000 detonators to Basilan. Further investigation revealed the men were associated with Abu Sayyaf.
September 23, 2014: In the central Philippines (Panay Island) police captured a senior NPA leader.
September 19, 2014: In the south (Surigao del Sur province) two clashes with NPA men left two rebels dead and one soldier wounded.