China has escalated its efforts to drive Filipinos out of Pagasa Island in the South China Sea. In January China very publicly opposed Filipino plans to a new Filipino air traffic control facility on Pagasa. In late February Chinese coast guard ships began showing up at nearby Jackson Atoll, which has long been used by Filipino fishermen from nearby Palawan (inhabited by 770,000 Filipinos and not claimed by China, at least not yet). Now China appears to be making preparations to build an artificial island at
Jackson Atoll, install a small military garrison and declare the area part of China. Nearby Pagasa is the second-largest (37.2 hectares/93 acres) of the Spratly Islands and is inhabited by 200 Filipinos civilians and a few military personnel. China has been increasingly belligerent in its claims to Pagasa and threatens to “take it back” by force. China reacted to the flight control facility by issuing an official protest and repeating its threats. Chinese military and civilian ships are showing up near Pagasa with increasing frequency and sometimes the Chinese vessels try (by getting in the way) to prevent non-Chinese vessels from getting too close to the island. The Philippines often has a coast guard patrol boat off the island (which is 480 kilometers from the nearest Filipino territory China does not claim) and that provides the possibility of a violent military encounter. China is also concerned with the increasingly frequent visits of American warships to the Philippines (for leave and maintenance) and the South China Seas (to challenge Chinese claims.) So far China has not been violent but with more and more Chinese warships, warplanes and troops showing up in the South China Sea there appears to be increased risk of someone opening fire.
The Moslem Peace Deal
Malaysia, which hosted the peace talks between MILF and the government, urged MILF leaders to keep their gunmen under control and allow the largely Christian legislature to get through the next national elections on May 6th and eventually vote to approve the MILF peace deal signed in 2014. Some MILF factions are hostile to the deal but most Filipino Moslems as well as the Christian majority want peace. The fighting has been going on since 1970 and left over 100,000 dead. The security forces have increasingly had the upper hand and if MILF goes back to war MILF, and the Moslem south, will lose.
The basic problem is that the peace deal with MILF cannot get passed by the current congress. MILF agreed to keep the peace and wait to see if the next congress thinks differently. The May elections will produce a new president (restricted to one six year term) and a new congress (most with three year terms). There are congressional elections every three years and the newly elected congress will take power in early July. MILF expects the new congress to either pass or reject the peace deal by the end of the year. This peace deal, if approved by congress, creates Bangsamoro which is an autonomous Moslem area in the southwest. It was expected that this new law would be difficult to get through congress. It was always understood that because of the 2016 elections the treaty would have an opportunity to try getting approval from two different congresses. Although there are a lot of incumbents, the 250 members of the House of Representatives are restricted to nine years (three terms). MILF also has to get the approval of most Moslems in the south, which should be a lot easier, even if all of them don’t get all they wanted. The government wanted to get the Bangsamoro laws approved before the 2016 presidential elections so the politicians who handled the successful negotiations would get full credit for the peace deal. The main problem is that too many Christians do not trust the Moslems to remain at peace and curb violence against Christians in the south. While Moslems are the majority in some parts of the south (mainly the southwest that will become Bangsamoro) Christians are the majority in the southern islands that radical Moslems insist should be under Moslem control and all Christians expelled. Even in Bangsamoro Christians are a large minority.
The War On Corruption
A police general, who was fired in 2015 for corruption, was ordered arrested because there was now enough evidence to prosecute him for involvement a conspiracy to steal and sell a thousand assault rifles to leftist rebels (NPA) between 2011 and 2013. The general was aided by ten other police commanders or officials who are also being prosecuted. This scam brought in a million dollars, which the general got a major portion of. The general is under investigation for several other even more profitable scams. The anti-corruption effort is accelerating with senior government officials and politicians being prosecuted for actions that, for decades, were known but could not be stopped because the justice system and police were also corrupt. That has been changing, mainly because of growing public anger and the ability to get around often corrupt mass media to circulate news of corrupt activities via the Internet.
March 13, 2016: In the south (Zamboanga Sibugay province) police tried to arrest Waning Abdusalam, a notorious kidnapper and often the leader of a gang. Abdusalam tried to shoot his way out but was killed. While not a member of Abu Sayyaf Abdusalam kidnapped foreigners in the south and then sold them to Abu Sayyaf, which was better equipped to keep the hostage from being rescued and also better able to get a large ransom. Men like Abdusalam would kidnap Filipinos as well as foreigners. Kidnapping is a common crime in the Moslem south.
March 10, 2016: In the south (Sulu Island) soldiers seized two Abu Sayyaf camps. The Islamic terrorists had fled the camps, which were built to accommodate about 150 people. Troops seized weapons, ammo, food and military equipment. The security forces have been particularly active on Sulu lately because Abu Sayyaf is threatening to kill three foreigners (two Canadians and a Norwegian) by April 8th if a $60 million ransom is not paid by then. The three foreigners were kidnapped from a Filipino resort in September 2015. The Philippines forbids the payment of ransoms to Abu Sayyaf, especially multi-million dollar ones because that kind of money enables the Islamic terrorist group to survive and even expand.
March 9, 2016: Japan agreed to lease the Philippines five TC-90 aircraft. These are military versions of the popular King Air twin engine civilian transport. Many are used for military purposes (training, transport, electronic warfare, surveillance) and Japan has been using them since the 1970s. Japan changed its laws in 2014 to allow for the export of military equipment (under certain conditions) and is expected to supply the Philippines with a lot more help like this. The TC-90 doubles the range of Filipino coastal surveillance from 300 to 600 kilometers. China protested this Japanese support for the Philippines. The cost of the lease was not revealed but it should not be a lot as these PC-10s are used and not equipped with any expensive electronics. King Air 90s sell for less than a million dollars used and cost less than a thousand dollars an hour (maintenance, fuel, spares) to operate.
March 5, 2016: In the south (Maguindanao province) four soldiers were wounded by a BIFF bomb that was set off as a patrol passed by.
March 1, 2016: In the south (Zamboanga city) a visiting Saudi Islamic cleric (Aaidh ibn Abdullah al Qarni) was attacked by a gunman. Qarni was wounded and five of his bodyguards and the attacker were killed. The attack was apparently the work of ISIL, which has openly said it wants Qarni dead for being hostile to ISIL.
Elsewhere in the south (Maguindanao province) one soldier was killed and two wounded during a clash with BIFF Islamic terrorists. These clashes have been going on here since early February. BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) has been on the run since it was formed in 2011 after splitting from MILF. At that point it had about a thousand armed men but years of defeats have reduced that to a few hundred.
February 27, 2016: In the south (Lanao del Sur province) a week of fighting with BIFF left at least forty Islamic terrorists and five soldiers dead. Over 5,000 civilians fled their homes to avoid the fighting. This all began on the 20th when some BIFF men clashed with an army patrol. The BIFF gunmen fled with soldiers in pursuit. Artillery and aircraft were called in and that led to the discovery of a BIFF camp which became the scene of a major battle. Two of the dead were identified as known Indonesian Islamic terrorists who had joined ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). BIFF has also pledged allegiance to ISIL as has Abu Sayyaf. Both Abu Sayyaf and BIFF are known to have provided refuge for foreign Islamic terrorists who had to flee their homelands because of successful counter-terrorism efforts.
February 25, 2016: In the south (Bukidnon province) a chance encounter between a wanted NPA leader and three of his men and three soldiers led to violence. During a brief exchange of the fire the NPA leader was hit in the head and killed. His three followers fled.
February 21, 2016: The son of the vice-president and twenty government officials have been indicted for various acts of corruption. The vice-president himself is immune while in office but may be indicted later in 2016 after his term expires.
February 19, 2016: In the south (Sulu Island) Abu Sayyaf gunmen attacked the home of a man suspected of being an informant for the military. The target was a former member of MNLF (a Moslem separatist group that made peace with the government in 1996) and he and his son were killed by the Islamic terrorists. It is unclear if the dead man was an informant but he was known to be critical of Islamic terrorism and Abu Sayyaf has to discourage that sort of thinking.
February 17, 2016: In the south (Maguindanao province) a roadside bomb hit a civilian vehicle killing four civilians and wounding two. It is unclear who carried out this attack or why.
February 16, 2016: In the north (Luzon) a police convoy was ambushed by forty NPA rebels. Six policemen were killed and eight wounded before return fire drove the rebels off. It is unclear how many casualties the leftist rebels suffered.