In the Moslem south Abu Sayyaf has suffered a major defeat in the failed attempt to take over Marawi City (the capital of Lanao del Sur province). In addition to the heavy losses in the four month battle for the city, there are more armed Abu Sayyaf men taking advantage of the amnesty. So far this year 114 Abu Sayyaf men have surrendered. Half of the surrenders took place in Basilan province, the center of Abu Sayyaf power and where most of the remaining fourteen kidnap victims (four Vietnamese, five Indonesians, four Filipinos and one from the Netherlands) are being held for ransom. The surrendering Abu Sayyaf men bring information as well as weapons and that info has led to the remaining Abu Sayyaf forces being constantly moving and disrupting plans for more kidnapping or piracy operations.
In Marawi City troops have regained control over nearly all the neighborhoods that a thousand Islamic terrorists occupied or threatened since late May. Three of the five leaders of the Islamic terrorist coalition fighting in Marawi City have been killed and the remaining two (one of the four Manute brothers and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon) have gathered fifty or so men to make a last stand at a location on the city waterfront. They were unable to reach the waterfront and instead established a final redoubt in a lakeside neighborhood. About ten of these final fifty are foreigners, the rest are Filipinos from Abu Sayyaf or the Manute group. This group is holding about 40 civilian hostages and apparently hopes to use these to avoid airstrikes and perhaps get some of the Islamic terrorists out of the city. The military insists escape is not an option, especially the Abu Sayyaf leader, who has been much sought for years and is also the leader of all ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Southeast Asia. So far nearly 900 have died in Marawi City fighting with most (78 percent) Islamic terrorists. Some 17 percent of those killed were security forces and the remaining five percent civilians.
The largest ISIL faction in the city was from the Manute Group (a radical MILF faction that opposes the peace treaty) who unexpectedly brought in over 300 of their own gunmen who were willing to fight to the death and inspired more young Moslems to join during the months of fighting. The Manute family is one of the larger and wealthier clans in the south and seven Manute brothers got mixed up with clan politics, MILF and now ISIL. The battle began on May 23rd when a raid to capture or kill Isnilon Hapilon (the head of Abu Sayyaf since 2016) escalated unexpectedly. As the fighting went on there were efforts to end what quickly turned into dead (literally) end for the ISIL fighters. MILF refused to help negotiate a withdrawal of the remaining Islamic terrorists (many of them former MILF members) from the city. Some Islamic clerics visited the city during the battle and urged the Islamic terrorists to stop fighting. That failed. The government demanded that the Islamic terrorists in the city surrender or die. Some surrendered, most died and few escaped.
Elsewhere in the south (Maguindanao province) there has been increased activity by BIFF gunmen operating openly and enthusiastically as an ISIL affiliate. MILF has been more active in going after these new ISIL sighting in part because MILF knows BIFF and Manute are getting their new recruits from the younger and more radical MILF members and if these ISIL factions are not put down quickly they threaten to evolve into a MILF civil war. That would not be unusual as such religion based private wars have been common in this part of the Philippines before the Spanish or Americans arrived. MILF is asking the government for military aid and more visible movement on getting the autonomy law through the legislature. The government is cooperating but also quietly reminding MILF leaders that all this is a test of whether or not MILF can actually govern in the Moslem south.
Military intelligence has been collecting documents from dead Islamic terrorists and interrogation reports from whose who were captured or surrendered. This information could often be checked by comparing it to comments from the many civilian hostages who were rescued, or escaped. Most of the Islamic terrorists fighting in the city were the usual suspects; young Moslem men who had little education and poor job prospects. They were attracted by the usual promises of great rewards in the afterlife for “defending Islam” and opportunities to enjoy a bit of the gangster life while still living. For this reason it was not surprising that the Islamic terrorists had failed to recruit many students or faculty from the MSU (Mindanao State University) main campus in Marawi. MSU administrators pointed out that most Moslems who went to college were seeking careers not opportunities to become a martyr for Islam. Groups like Abu Sayyaf, BIFF and Manute were seen more as thugs and gangsters using religion as a justification for all sorts of bad behavior.
Meanwhile China is still expanding its operations in the South China Sea while seeking to buy the favor of Filipino politicians and voters. This is having some success but most Filipinos oppose the Chinese aggression and see the United States as a more positive presence in the region than China. President Duterte’s year old war on drugs is still controversial (more so outside the Philippines) but so far most Filipinos back the violent, deadly and unorthodox approach to dealing with illegal drugs, the drug gangs, corrupt politicians and all that. A recent anti-Duterte demonstration attracted some 5,000 protestors. But at the same time three times as many Duterte supporters took to the streets. So it is not surprising that peace talks with the NPA and MILF get pushed aside by louder news.
September 20, 2017: In the north (Nueva Ecija province) soldiers clashed with NPA rebels, killing nine of them. One soldier was wounded during the two hour battle. One of the dead was later identified as a senior NPA leader.
September 17, 2017: In the south (Maguindanao province) a pro-government MILF militia clashed with a group of BIFF Islamic terrorists, killing six of them. Two MILF gunmen died as well.
September 16, 2017: in the south (Marawi City) troops captured the last Islamic terrorist stronghold in the city. This was a mosque complex that the Islamic terrorists used as a headquarters. The remaining Islamic terrorists in the mosque fled, abandoning the few remaining Christian hostages they had been holding. Over 800 died in four months of fighting and most of the dead were the Islamic terrorists from several local groups (Abu Sayyaf, Manute and BIFF) who had formed a pro- ISIL coalition that got lots of publicity while fighting in Marawi City but lost most of its current members doing so. New recruits, because of all the publicity did not replace those losses and a lot of key people will take a lot longer to replace.
September 15, 2017: In the north (the capital region) the government took the unusual step of replacing the entire police department of Caloocan City. Some 1,300 officers and commanders are being reassigned (for screening, 45 days of retraining and, for some, dismissal from the force). This was precipitated when video (mostly from security cameras) showed police murdering teenage suspects and robbing homes. People in the city of 1.5 million have long complained about police corruption and, as happened in many other areas, the new anti-drug campaign has led to some corrupt cops getting a lot worse.
September 14, 2017: In neighboring Malaysia police arrested seven Filipino Abu Sayyaf members who had secretly entered the country in 2015, were currently working as security guards and were part of a larger Abu Sayyaf group in Malaysia that was planning some major terror attacks. Since July police have arrested wither other Abu Sayyaf men in Malaysia plus ten Islamic terrorists from Malaysia. So far this year 41 foreign Islamic terrorists have been arrested in Malaysia.
September 9, 2017: The army has begun offering employment to groups (of ten or more armed men) of NPA rebels who surrender, with their weapons, and undergo screening (to identify and exclude known criminals). The new NPA recruits would receive some training and go to work for the army a privates (the lowest rank) and receive army pay and other benefits. There is also an amnesty program for NPA members, with cash paid for weapons they bring with them, as well as useful information. The government will also hide the identity of those who surrender and help the former NPA men avoid retaliation efforts by the NPA. This particular rebel group tries, and often succeeds in hunting down and murdering those who leave the group without permission.
September 7, 2017: In the south (Jolo Island) soldiers clashed with about twenty Abu Sayyaf gunmen, killed five and while pursuing the rest rescued two Indonesians the Islamic terrorists were holding for ransom. Five soldiers were wounded during the operation. Abu Sayyaf still holds about 18 hostages, most of them foreigners from neighboring countries. The two men rescued today had been taken off the south coast last November as they operated their fishing boat between the Philippines and Malaysia.
September 1, 2017: In the north (Nueva Vizcaya province) troops clashed with NPA rebels. Five soldiers died and two were wounded while the rebels escaped carrying their dead and wounded with them.
August 30, 2017: In the south (Maguindanao province) soldiers on patrol encountered a group of BIFF gunmen. A brief gun battle left one BIFF man (who turned out to be a notorious leader) dead and his associate wounded. The rest fled abandoning weapons, ammo and equipment in order to move faster. The BIFF group were moving towards an assembly point for an attack.
August 28, 2017: In the north (Isabela province) troops clashed with a group of fifteen NPA rebels who locals complained were extorting cash and goods from villages and business. The NPA men fled when fired on by the troops, losing two of their men to the gunfire.