One side effect of the “war on drugs” is a growing amount of information on government corruption obtained. The police corruption revelations, in particular, were seen as a unique opportunity to make a major dent in what appears to be endemic police corruption. Catching and punishing corrupt cops is popular but the corruption has proved to be a persistent and difficult problem to eliminate. For example, back in 2008 the army and national police were cracking down on corruption and sloppiness. This meant a lot more readiness inspections, and investigations were taking place. Dozens of corrupt police were being fired each month and soldiers of all ranks were charged with corruption or incompetence. That crackdown did not gain the expected momentum and only reduced the problems a bit before fading away. Despite that, the anti-corruption investigations continued and even increased when the new president took power in mid-2016. Reformers have pushed for a massive and sustained effort and now they may have some momentum. The new anti-corruption force is expected to act quickly on police corruption information obtained from drug suspects and publicize their successes (to encourage the public and discourage the dirty cops and even persuade policemen to adopt a less tolerant attitude towards fellow cops who are dirty.
The NPA (the illegal armed wing of the local Communist Party) is again a primary target of counter-terrorism operations mainly because what is left of the organization is no longer unified enough to negotiate a peace deal. So far this year the security forces have seized nearly 400 firearms and explosive devices from the NPA. More importantly, over 2,500 NPA members and supporters have been captured or surrendered. These former leftist rebels report that morale is poor throughout the organization and that the only factions likely to continue operating are those that have basically become gangsters whose members don’t care what their political label is as long as they are making money. When you have this many surrenders there are usually even larger losses from desertion (by recent recruits who have no police record of their NPA activities and can easily just walk away) and fewer recruits. The NPA leadership is still unable to exercise control over the entire organization, which is now coming apart. Most remaining factions still find it convenient or comforting to identify themselves as misunderstood social reformers.
The government suspended peace negotiations with the NPA in mid-2017 and refuses to revive them until the NPA can offer a good reason to. NPA negotiators were warned that the peace talks (resumed earlier in 2017) would be abandoned if some progress was not made. The government kept the negotiations with the NPA going in 2017 despite persistent NPA demands that hundreds of jailed NPA members be freed first. Since February 2017 the army and police were ordered to exert maximum pressure on the NPA and that apparently worked because the operations concentrated on the NPA factions known to be hostile to a peace deal. This was important because in January 2017 negotiators realized that there were too many NPA factions that refused to make peace and that problem remained unsolved. So far the NPA has been unable to regain control over (or disown) disobedient factions. The government is unwilling to wait any longer and is now seeking to destroy the NPA completely. Both the government and the NPA leadership are trying, in different ways, to deal with the uncooperative NPA factions and that is enough to maintain the option to resume negotiations. But at the moment the government appears to have had enough of NPA instability and irrational behavior. For example, some senior NPA leaders still insist the NPA still has a chance of overthrowing democracy and replacing it with a communist dictatorship. The most senior NPA leaders remain in exile, largely in Europe, where they are content to issue press releases about the need for communism to succeed in the Philippines. NPA leaders insist that government data indicating the NPA is falling apart is false. At the same time, there is no evidence that the NPA is thriving, except as rural gangsters in the few parts of the country.
April 13, 2018: In the capital, four policemen were arrested for trying to extort money from an Egyptian man. This was the result of police anti-corruption already observing these cops and waiting for the four to commit another extortion attempt.
April 12, 2018: In the south (Maguindanao province) troops captured two more camps used by BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) gunmen. During the three days leading up to that at least 11 BIFF men were killed. Several other BIFF men either surrendered or were captured. A month ago troops caught up with a group of at least fifty BIFF gunmen and during three days of fighting at least 44 of the Islamic terrorists were killed. Several soldiers were wounded. Several thousand civilians in the area temporarily fled to avoid all the fighting. BIFF is attempting to revive ISIL in the south and so far is having a hard time because of the constant (since late 2017) pressure by the security forces. BIFF is opposed to the peace deal other local Moslem ground negotiated to provide Moslem areas with some autonomy. BIFF wants all of the Philippines run by its Moslem minority (eight percent of the population).
The U.S. recently revealed that captured ISIL documents indicated that all the branches of ISIL (like the one in the Philippines) have been ordered to continue recruiting but not for the now defunct caliphate in Iraq and Syria but instead to build up the local ISIL forces. What ISIL leadership didn’t anticipate was the degree of local opposition these other ISIL franchises would encounter if they attempted to grow locally. There are actually four separate ISIL factions in the south, each based on a different local Islamic terror group that thought to pledge allegiance to ISIL would help them. These four factions are in Basilan, Ranao, Maguindanao and Cotabato. BIFF, the Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf provide most of the ISIL manpower in the Philippines.
April 10, 2018: In the south (Camarines Sur province) troops responding to a tip found a group of armed NPA rebels and after the clash three of the communist gunmen were dead and five captured. Local civilians had complained about this group coming around and demanding cash and supplies as “revolutionary taxes.”
April 8, 2018: The Philippines is resisting Chinese pressure to sign a treaty that would enable China to carry out a search for underwater resources off the west coast of the Philippines (the “Philippines Rise”). Meanwhile, another deal was signed on the 10th in China that was mainly about the Philippines receiving $141 million in loans and grants. Left unsaid was anything about the “Philippines Rise” or the Filipino military continuing to fly aerial patrols over Scarborough Shoal, one of the many areas in the Filipino EEZ that China has seized and turned into military bases. These aerial patrols, with unarmed TC-90 aircraft (recently received from Japan as a gift), are protested by the Chinese but so far the Chinese forces on Scarborough Shoal have not opened fire. President Duterte has adopted a non-confrontational approach to China but most Filipinos oppose just letting the Chinese seize whatever Filipino offshore assets they want. So Filipino resistance continues, as does China pretending to be a friend of the Philippines.
April 6, 2018: After several years of planning (and persuading) the head of the military announced the formation of AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Special Operations Command (AFPSOCOM). This is based on the American SOCOM, which was established in 1987 to control, coordinate and support special operations forces from different services of the armed forces. Several other nations have since adopted the SOCOM approach with success. The Philippines has a wide variety of special operations forces and, like the American military before 1987, there were often coordination problems. Like SOCOM AFPSOCOM expects to spend a few years working out the kinks.
April 1, 2018: In the south (Basilan) an Abu Sayyaf leader and most (13) of his followers surrendered. This came after weeks of negotiations. The group also turned in a large number of weapons and explosives. Terms of the surrender were not revealed. This men who surrendered are responsible for the deaths of many soldiers and many kidnappings as well (including one incident offshore that seized some Vietnamese). Other Abu Sayyaf factions are still holding ten kidnap victims, including four foreigners. In general, the Abu Sayyaf factions are under heavy pressure by the security forces and a growing number of local civilians who no longer support or tolerate Abu Sayyaf.
March 31, 2018: In the north (Quezon province) NPA gunmen attacked two villages, destroyed property and wounded one local defense volunteer. Two of the communist rebels were killed. This was mostly about extortion and coercing local civilians and businesses to cooperate with NPA demands.
March 30, 2018: In the south (North Cotabato province) a BIFF leader was killed while trying to get past roadblocks on a motorcycle. The dead man was identified as a local BIFF leader and found to be transporting a bomb on his motorcycle.
March 22, 2018: Off the east coast of the Philippines an American destroyer (USS Mustin) carried out another American FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in the South China Sea. This was the second FONOP for 2018. This one was near Mischief Reef (270 kilometers west of Palawan) off the coast of the Philippines. China protested as they now consider this area part of China. Mischief Reef is much closers to the Philippines (Palawan) than China (Hainan) and according to international law (and a recent international court decision) is Filipino. The Chinese say they have a prior claim to most of the South China Sea and basically dares the rest of the world to try and stop them. This makes sense to most Chinese because the Chinese have long called China Zhongguo, which is usually translated into English as “middle kingdom”. But a more literal and accurate translation is “everything under the heavens.” Until the 21st century, this mainly meant adjacent land areas. But now China points out that “everything” means the South China Sea as well. Chinese media report these FONOPs as a violation of international law and most now trigger a response by Chinese warships or warplanes. In reality, China rarely even pretends to oppose the American warships. These exercises are meant to affirm that many of the Chinese claims to the entire South China Sea are invalid and that the right to free passage through China’s EEZ is assured.