. One fishing boat shows damage from being rammed by a larger (Chinese coast guard) ship. China complains that they felt threatened by fisherman waving knives and firebombs at nearby Chinese coast guard ships and demand that the Philippines apologize. This is not an isolated incident, even for Scarborough Shoal. In 2015 China left buoys at Scarborough Shoal to warn non-Chinese ships to stay away but Filipino fishermen not only ignored the warning but towed the buoys back home and turned them over to police. In response Chinese coast guard ships visited Scarborough Shoal more frequently with orders to force foreign fishing boats they encountered away from the area. Scarborough Shoal is 220 kilometers from one of the main Filipino islands (Palawan) and 650 kilometers from Chinese territory (Hainan Island) and according to international law is Filipino. The Chinese coast guard has a reputation for ignoring international law and other illegal activity by Chinese ships. It appears that China encourages its coast guard to do whatever they can get away with to drive foreign fishermen from their traditional fishing grounds that are now claimed by China in the South China Sea. It is believed that China is preparing to create an artificial island at Scarborough Shoal and station military personnel there. Meanwhile it only wants Chinese fishing there.
China is trying to portray a month old incident involving Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal as Filipino aggression. The Filipino fishermen involved tell it differently and describe how they were forced from their traditional fishing areas by Chinese warships on March 5
April 4, 2016: Thousands of American and Filipino military personnel begin eleven days of joint training exercises. This is the annual Balikatan training event and recently this exercise has shifted to scenarios dealing with possible Chinese aggression. While Balikatan has occurred 32 times it recently evolved from a strictly U.S.-Filipino affair into a multinational event. This year forces from Australia and Japan are present and other nations belonging to the informal (and growing) anti-China coalition are welcome to join.
China has noted all this and complained, even as China increases its military presence in parts of the South China Sea that, under international law, belong to the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan. All these countries, plus India, Australia and South Korea, have come closer together to oppose China. Meanwhile an international court is to rule in the next two months on the legality of Chinese claims. The Philippines made the claim and China ignored it and would not even send lawyers to argue their case. China says it will ignore any court decision that challenges Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
The War At Home
The government revealed that over the weekend NPA had erected checkpoints and roadblocks in rural areas of three southern provinces in order to rob people and kidnap soldiers and police. NPA are now holding two soldiers and a policeman and a search is underway to find and release the captives. The NPA carried out this daring operation as part of an effort rebuild its shrinking public support. These kidnappings were presented as part of an NPA show of support for recent farmer demonstration on a main highway in North Cotabato Province. The 5,000 farmers were demanding that the government do more about the devastating (t0 crops) drought. As police sought to reopen the highway the situation turned violent and three demonstrators died. The NPA insists that a communist dictatorship would solve problems like this but most Filipinos know that the historical record shows quite the opposite.
In the waters between southern Philippines and Malaysia (Sabah) Abu Sayyaf gunmen attacked a Malaysian tugboat and kidnapped four Malaysian crewmen. The rest of the nine man crew (three Indonesians and two Burmese) were left behind. The tugboat owner has not yet received the expected ransom demand. These kidnappers belonged to a different Abu Sayyaf faction than the gunmen who kidnapped ten Indonesian sailors from a tugboat off the Filipino coast on March 24th.
April 3, 2016: Japanese warships (a sub and two destroyers) arrived in Subic Bay to participate in training exercises and announced that the two destroyers would later move through South China Sea areas China claims are now Chinese territory. This is the first time since 2001 that Japanese warships have visited the Philippines. After about a week these three Japanese ships will visit Vietnam.
March 31, 2016: Vietnam seized a Chinese tanker for intruding into Vietnamese waters. This is meant to remind China the Vietnam can do what China has long been doing to Vietnamese ships as part of the ongoing resistance to Chinese claims to own the South China Sea.
March 28, 2016: In the south (Basilan) the army declared that a joint military-MILF operation had found and destroyed several Abu Sayyaf on Basilan and forced at least 70 Abu Sayyaf to flee the area. Since Abu Sayyaf aligned itself with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in 2015 it has become more hostile towards MILF and the peace deal MILF had worked out with the government. That agreement puts MILF in charge of an autonomous Moslem area in southeastern Philippines where Abu Sayyaf operates. MILF apparently feels that now is the time to eliminate Abu Sayyaf once and for all even if Abu Sayyaf contains a lot of former MILF members. .
March 27, 2016: In the south (Basilan) soldiers and MILF gunmen fought with Abu Sayyaf fighters and killed one of them, who was later identified as a wanted Malaysian Islamic terrorist. Six bombs were also seized along with various other weapons.
March 26, 2016: The government was told by an Indonesian shipping company that they had just received a message from Abu Sayyaf that the Islamic terrorists had, the day before, seized an Indonesian tugboat and coal barge (and ten sailors) that was approaching southern Philippines to deliver the coal. Abu Sayyaf wanted a million dollar ransom for the ten Indonesian sailors. The army believes the Indonesians are being held on Sulu Island and is organizing a major search operation. Abu Sayyaf has previously left the shipping that keeps the southeastern islands (like Basilan and Sulu) supplied but the Islamic terrorist are broke and desperate for cash.
March 25, 2016: In the south (Basilan) troops called in by civilians encountered a group of armed Abu Sayyaf men and killed two of them after several hours of shooting. One of the dead was a notorious bomb builder. Five soldiers and six terrorists were wounded as most of the enemy managed to eventually get away.
March 23, 2016: In the south (Basilan) MILF fighters clashed with some Abu Sayyaf and killed three of the Islamic terrorists. Two civilians died in the crossfire. MILF has long resisted going after Abu Sayyaf because that Islamic terrorist group has a lot of sympathizers inside the MILF. The government insists that MILF abide by the peace deal terms that include a MILF promise to help shut down Abu Sayyaf.
March 22, 2016: For the second time this month an American nuclear sub (an SSGN) visited Subic Bay. That makes six American warships coming by in one month.
March 21, 2016: In the south (Camarines Sur province) two clashes between troops and NPA rebels left three of the leftist rebels dead and many weapons and bombs captured. The army also found evidence that these two actions had disrupted NPA plans for attacks in Camarines Sur and neighboring Oriental Mindoro provinces.
March 20, 2016: Over the last two days security forces in the north (outside Manila) disrupted an NPA plot to attack several economic targets. Troops arrested twelve NPA members (seven of them teenagers) and wounded several more of the leftist rebels during a gun battle. The NPA gunmen who got away took their wounded with them but not the evidence of the planned attacks.
March 18, 2016: In the south (Sulu Island) an army patrol encountered about a hundred Abu Sayyaf men and called in reinforcements. More troops plus helicopter gunships and artillery arrived and one solider and at least seven of the Islamic terrorists died in the initial fighting. The Abu Sayyaf men tried to flee, taking their wounded and some of their dead with them. Sixteen soldiers were wounded along with six Abu Sayyaf, including Radullan Sahiron, one of their senior leaders. The U.S. has offered a one million dollar reward for the death or capture of Sahiron, who was involved in kidnapping Americans.
March 16, 2016: In the south (Oriental Mindoro) NPA rebels clashed with an army patrol. Three of the leftist rebels were killed as well as one soldier. Another soldier and three CAFGU (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit) men were wounded. CAFGU are local civilian defense volunteers who sometimes accompany troops on patrol because, as locals, they know the area better. This makes it more difficult to ambush these patrols. In this case the NPA fled, taking some wounded with them.
Elsewhere in the south (Davao del Sur province) troops acting on a tip caught a wanted NPA leader. All this resulted in a gun battle and one NPA man was killed and the other, the leader, was wounded and captured. Some NPA men escaped by many weapons and several bombs were seized.
March 15, 2016: In the south (Sulu) Abu Sayyaf gunmen ambushed an army patrol killing two intelligence specialists who were guiding the troops in a search for Abu Sayyaf ISIL camps where kidnapping victims were held for hostage.