While the government is having continued success against Moslem and communist rebels as well as the few Islamic terrorists in the country, Chinese claims on Filipino territory are a growing threat. Despite the fact that no one recognizes these claims China continues to insist that its claims in the South China Sea are legal and will be enforced. China admonishes the United States to stop complaining about China’s legitimate efforts to control the South China Sea. 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 is now being expanded (via dredging) to 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. In 2015 Chinese construction efforts here seem to have accelerated.
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 directly 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.
April 20, 2015: In the south (Maguindanao province) BIFF (a renegade MILF faction that opposes the MILF peace deal and the presence of Christians in any area where Moslems also live) gunmen attacked a police base but were repulsed.
American and Filipino forces began their annual joint military exercises. This year 12,000 personnel were involved, twice as many as last year. China condemned the exercises as an illegal provocation while Filipino officials pointed out that these exercises should remind China that bullying the Philippines over illegal Chinese territorial claims involves more than just China and the Philippines.
April 18, 2015: In the south (South Cotabato province) five young (17-22) NPA members surrendered and said life was getting harder for the leftist rebels. There was a shortage of new recruits and everyone was being trained to use weapons now. This dire situation is believed to be the main reason NPA is willing to talk peace now.
Elsewhere in the south (Zamboanga) two NPA leaders were arrested by police in separate operations. Police are getting more tips on NPA operations, especially the presence of NPA personnel in cities. For decades NPA members could operate in urban areas because most people either supported them or were neutral (or fearful of NPA retaliation.) But now NPA is seen as a criminal gang with political pretensions.
April 16, 2015: In the south (Maguindanao province) BIFF made two attacks on army positions and wounded two soldiers. This is the third such attack in the week since the BIFF leader (Ameril Umbra Kato) died (of natural causes; high blood pressure). 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 MILF does often agree to pull back its gunmen for most army operations. Thus troops were recently able to move through areas (in Maguindanao and North Cotabato) normally controlled by MILF in a search for the remaining BIFF members. This army offensive that began in February recently ended. Over 120,000 civilians fled their homes to avoid the fighters. The army has confirmed the deaths of at least 180 BIFF members and twelve were captured. The army believes there are only about 120 armed BIFF members left in the area. BIFF has also pledged loyalty to ISIL but has not yet adopted the ISIL practice of committing horrific murders. MILF is increasingly (and openly) critical of BIFF.
April 10, 2015: In the south (Sulu) troops found and disabled a large bomb near the entrance of one of their camps.
April 9, 2015: In the south (Sulu) soldiers clashed with a large (about 200 armed men) Abu Sayyaf force. After several hours the Islamic terrorists dispersed and fled but not before nine of the rebels were killed, long with two soldiers. Fifteen soldiers and at least 14 rebels were wounded.
A Chinese warship cut the nets of eight Filipino boats, pointed guns at the crews and used water cannon to force the boats from their traditional fishing areas near Scarborough Shoal. Because this has been going on since 2013 the government announced that Filipino fishermen will now be escorted by an armed Filipino coast guard vessel. This Chinese use of force is in violation of a 2012 deal. But the Chinese 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, has not yet used deadly force to assert that claim but is becoming more aggressive about it. 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 until now 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.
April 2, 2015: In the south (Surigao del Sur province) an NPA mine killed two soldiers and wounded six others.
April 1, 2015: The American FBI confirmed that its preliminary DNA analysis was correct and Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir (a member of the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiah who had a $5 million reward offered by the U.S. on his head) was killed in the January 25th police raid in the southern Philippines.
March 30, 2015: The army officially ended its month long offensive against BIFF.
March 29, 2015: In the south (Bukidnon province) a clash with the NPA left three of the communist rebels dead. Two soldiers were wounded.