The Philippines reminded China that no one recognizes Chinese claims in the South China Sea and that increasingly aggressive Chinese actions against ships “violating” seas China claims control over could lead to war. China, as usual, ignored this criticism. China refuses to acknowledge the possibility that anyone else has any valid claims on the South China Sea, which China now considers part of China, While not willing to go to war over the issue, China is willing to bully other nations away from territory the people in these countries (like the Philippines) have controlled, or at least used, for centuries.
Meanwhile the Philippines succumbed to Chinese threats and ordered a halt to oil exploration in the part of the Spratly Islands within the Filipino EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) because China also claims that area and the UN is now arbitrating the dispute. China has already said it will not abide by any UN decision against it. In the last year or so China has rapidly gone from building platforms to bringing in dredging ships and piling up sand into new islands. Thus Hughes reef, which has had a 380 square meter (4,100 square feet) raised platform since 2004 has in the last six months built (via dredging) a 75,000 square meter (18 acre) island with an airstrip and buildings now under construction. Similar platform building and island creation is under way at other reefs (Johnson South, Gaven Reefs and Fiery Cross Reef) in the Spratlys. About 45 of the islands are currently occupied by small numbers of military personnel. China claims them all, but long occupied only 8 while Vietnam has occupied or marked 25, the Philippines 8, Malaysia 6, and Taiwan one. Now China is building platforms and new islands all over the Spratly chain giving it a legal (at least according to China) claim to all of the Spratly Islands.
Japan has formally allied itself with the Philippines and Vietnam to plan and train for joint action against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. Japan, with the second (after China) largest navy in the region, already has a close relationship with the U.S. Navy. No one, especially the United States (the strongest naval power in the Pacific) has dared to confront the Chinese over these claims so the Chinese keep expanding their control and these newly created islands and their military garrisons are part of how China will win this campaign.
The World Bank reported that since 2011 over 8,000 people have been killed, wounded or kidnapped in the Moslem south. Several hundred thousand people have been displaced by the violence. The World Bank and other foreign donors are concerned that the new Moslem autonomous government will not be able to calm things down.
There has always been more violence in the south, where clan wars and blood feuds are more common, and disruptive to any government trying to operate there. The army and MILF radicals (BIFF or Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) continue to fight in the south, as bands of BIFF fighters attack Christian villages. The army is now close to wiping out BIFF, but the anti-Christian attitudes will remain.
Some good news on the anti-corruption front. President Aquino, like many politicians before him, promised to do something about corruption when he took office in 2010. Since then there has been a noticeable increase in corruption prosecutions and foreign investors reporting that they are encountering far less corruption while doing business in the Philippines. While Aquino is pleased with this even he has admitted that the spreading use of the Internet and smart phones in the Philippines played a major role. These two communications tools made it possible for many Filipinos to easily document and report corrupt acts. The new Aquino government encouraged prosecutors to make good use of this evidence and they have. There is still corruption but those who indulge have to worry much more about getting punished.
March 25, 2015: In the south (Compostela Valley) two civilians were wounded by an NPA roadside bomb. The remotely controlled bomb was detonated to his troops pursuing some of the leftist rebels. The timing was off and the explosion missed the troops but hit some civilians.
March 22, 2015: In the south (Datu Unsay) soldiers searching buildings in an area recently controlled by BIFF found bomb making components in a house that had apparently been a BIFF bomb building workshop. BIFF is a renegade MILF faction that opposes the peace deal, and the presence of Christians in any area where Moslems also live. MILF was supposed to deal with BIFF but didn’t, apparently because a lot of MILF members have some sympathy with the radical BIFF views. But this time MILF did agree to pull back its gunmen as the troops swept through areas (in Maguindanao and North Cotabato) normally controlled by MILF in a search for the remaining BIFF members. This army offensive has been going on since February and over 120,000 civilians have fled their homes to avoid potential combat. Caring for these refugees has become a major chore for the government. The army has confirmed the deaths of 73 BIFF members and believes other dead were dragged away and some of the badly wounded BIFF men later died.
March 21, 2015: The army reported that it has continued to inflict heavy losses on the leftist NPA, which now has fewer than 3,000 gunmen and is increasingly dependent on purely criminal activities (like drug dealing) to stay operational. For years the government and the army have been predicting the imminent demise of the NPA. While the size and appeal of the group has declined since the massive collapse of communist governments in 1989-91 the NPA appears, like the IRA and Mafia, destined to evolve from a radical political into a criminal organization rather than disappear.
March 18, 2015: In the south (Negros Occidental province), soldiers clashed briefly with NPA rebels and managed to capture two of the armed leftist rebels.
March 15, 2015: In the south (General Santos city) police arrested the head (Mohammad Ali Tambako) of one of the smaller Islamic terrorist groups (Justice for Islamic Movement or JIM). This group has fewer than a hundred members but has been active in carrying out attacks. Five other JIM members were seized at the same time.
March 14, 2015: In the south (Agusan del Sur province) NPA rebels ambushed an army patrol with a roadside bomb and killed three troops and wounded another five.
March 9, 2015: In the south (Bukidnon province) ten policemen were wounded in two clashes with NPA rebels.
March 7, 2015: In the south troops cornered a fought a group of BIFF rebels killing 14 of them. Thirteen soldiers were wounded as well.
March 6, 2015: In the south (Agusan del Sur province) NPA rebels ambushed and killed two soldiers delivering $600 to a remote village for a development project. It is unclear if this attack was mainly to get the cash.
March 4, 2015: In the south (Sulu Island) three soldiers were killed by an Abu Sayyaf bomb. In the last two months military operations in this area have killed at least 36 Abu Sayyaf members and wounded at least 78.
March 3, 2015: In the south troops found, searched and destroyed a BIFF camp. One of the facilities found there was a bomb making workshop along with lots of bomb components.