Islamic radical group Abu Sayyaf is becoming more of a bandit problem than a terrorist threat. Years of aggressive patrolling in the Moslem south by thousands of soldiers and marines have disrupted the group's ability to organize and carry out attacks elsewhere in the country. The military has concentrated on the islands where Abu Sayyaf initially came from (The Sulu Archipelago in the southwest, particularly the islands of Basilan, Jolo, and Sulu) and where the Islamic radicals still have a lot of fans. But these terrorists are not folk heroes to everyone down there, mainly because Abu Sayyaf supports themselves via kidnapping, extortion, and robbery. Lots of local Moslem civilians are victims of these crimes or collateral damage.
China has offered to negotiate with the Philippines over ownership of unoccupied bits of land off the coasts of Filipino islands. The Philippines is willing to talk, despite the fact that China is telling its own people, via state-controlled media, that there will be no backing down on Chinese claims of ownership of all of the South China Sea, including everything except waters 22 kilometers from land of other nations bordering this 3.5 square kilometer body of water. This disagreement heated up four years ago when the Chinese government declared that the U.S. could expect Chinese naval and air forces to try and keep American warships and aircraft out of the Chinese economic zone. International law (the 1994 Law of the Sea treaty) recognizes the waters 22 kilometers from land as under the jurisdiction of the nation controlling the nearest land. That means ships cannot enter these "territorial waters" without permission. China still respects that. But the waters 360 kilometers from land are considered the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), of the nation controlling the nearest land. The EEZ owner can control who fishes there and extracts natural resources (mostly oil and gas) from the ocean floor. But the EEZ owner cannot prohibit free passage, or the laying of pipelines and communications cables. China claims that American warships conduct illegal espionage on Chinese bases and military training from the EEZ. But the 1994 treaty says nothing about such matters. China is simply doing what China has been doing for centuries, trying to impose its will on neighbors, or anyone venturing into what China considers areas under its control. This year China declared that the South China Sea is Chinese, by virtue of ancient (and often dubious) Chinese claims on all of the uninhabited (and a few inhabited) bits of land in the area. None of the affected nations (including Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam) agree with this and the U.S. has mutual defense treaties with most of these nations. China keeps pushing these claims and the situation is getting closer to open warfare.
September 20, 2012: In the south (Basilan Island) Abu Sayyaf attacked, for the third time in the last two months, workers on a rubber plantation. Three men were killed in this attack and six wounded. So far these Abu Sayyaf attacks, meant to intimidate the plantation management to pay protection money, have killed seven people. Extortion is a major source of income for the Islamic terror group.
Elsewhere in the south (outside Zamboanga City) troops killed five Abu Sayyaf members during a raid on a village where the terrorists were holding a Chinese businessman for ransom. The man had been kidnapped on June 4th.
September 19, 2012: In an unusual move, the leftist NPA rebels have paid $119 to each of fifty people wounded when an NPA member threw a grenade into a crowd in the south (Davao City) on September 1st. This was an unauthorized attack and caused great anger against the leftist rebels. The NPA has, for nearly fifty years, been seeking to establish a communist dictatorship in the Philippines and has been much less successful since the fall of most communist nations in 1989-91. With the loss of foreign support the NPA has had to rely more on crime (mainly extortion from businesses) and still wants to maintain good will among the people it has long claimed to be fighting for.
September 17, 2012: In the south (Basilan Island) Abu Sayyaf twice attacked an army outpost in a village the Islamic terrorists once controlled. The six soldiers there chased off the attackers both times. The Islamic terrorists have attacked the village five times in the last three months. Losing control of this village made it easier for the army to send patrols deeper into the jungle areas where the Abu Sayyaf men hide out.
September 16, 2012: MILF leaders announced that they will not heed al Qaeda calls that Americans be attacked because parts of an anti-Islam film (produced by an Egyptian-American) appeared on the Internet. Islamic radicals believe such criticism of Islam is punishable by death. Most of those who subsequently die are violent demonstrators attacking police. MILF does not want any part of that, at least not while it is close to finalizing a peace deal with the government.
September 13, 2012: In the south (Davao del Norte province) two soldiers were killed when ambushed by NPA rebels. The government later said that this will not halt peace negotiations with the NPA. Usually it’s the leftist rebels who suffer the most deaths in these clashes.
September 12, 2012: In the south (Zamboanga City) troops arrested two Abu Sayyaf members who had taken part in a raid and kidnapping at a resort hotel in 2001. Several of the hostages were murdered by their captors.